Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Our Words Are Our Weapons: Against the Destruction of the World by Greed

Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence," loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it’s misogyny or racism or poisoning the environment. What protects an outrage are disguises, circumlocutions, and euphemisms -- “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture, “collateral damage” for killing civilians, “the war on terror” for the war against you and me..: Rebecca Solnit

In ancient China, the arrival of a new dynasty was accompanied by “the rectification of names,” a ceremony in which the sloppiness and erosion of meaning that had taken place under the previous dynasty were cleared up and language and its subjects correlated again. It was like a debt jubilee, only for meaning rather than money.
This was part of what made Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign so electrifying: he seemed like a man who spoke our language and called many if not all things by their true names. Whatever caused that season of clarity, once elected, Obama promptly sank into the stale, muffled, parallel-universe language wielded by most politicians, and has remained there ever since. Meanwhile, the far right has gotten as far as it has by mislabeling just about everything in our world -- a phenomenon which went supernova in this year of “legitimate rape,” “the apology tour,” and “job creators.”  Meanwhile, their fantasy version of economics keeps getting more fantastic. (Maybe there should be a rectification of numbers, too.)  
Let’s rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of so many of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I'm not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth.
Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence," loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it’s misogyny or racism or poisoning the environment. What protects an outrage are disguises, circumlocutions, and euphemisms -- “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture, “collateral damage” for killing civilians, “the war on terror” for the war against you and me and our Bill of Rights.
Change the language and you’ve begun to change the reality or at least to open the status quo to question. Here is Confucius on the rectification of names:
“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”
So let’s start calling manifestations of greed by their true name. By greed, I mean the attempt of those who have plenty to get more, not the attempts of the rest of us to survive or lead a decent life... Read more:

Dilip Hiro on Washington's Pakistan Meltdown

In 1948, George Orwell published his classic dystopian novel 1984, flipping the numbers in the publication year to speed us into a future that is now, of course, 28 years in our past.  In that book, he imagined a three-superpower world of regularly shifting alliances in which war was a constant but its specific nature eternally forgotten.  As he wrote, “To trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one.”

Of course, predicting the future is a perilous thing.  Instead of three squabbling superpowers ruling the globe, we have one (in visible decline), and yet there are some eerie real-world parallels to Orwell’s fiction.  By 1984, for instance, the U.S. and the Saudis were funneling huge sums of money and vast quantities of weaponry through Pakistan’s intelligence outfit, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorat, to support the most fundamentalist and extreme of the Afghan mujahedeen who were then fighting that other superpower, the Soviet Union, in their country.  These included Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (about as extreme as they came) and, as Anand Gopal has pointed out at TomDispatch, Jalaluddin Haqqani who received “millions of dollars, anti-aircraft missiles, and even tanks.”  He was, at the time, so beloved by Washington officials “that former congressman Charlie Wilson once called him ‘goodness personified.’"  Hekmatyar and Haqqani were among those President Ronald Reagan -- shades of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” -- dubbed “freedom fighters.”
Jump forward nearly three decades, and the Haqqani network is perhaps Washington’s greatest bugaboo in the present Afghan War, a group regularly denounced by the Obama administration for its attacks on U.S. troops; while Hekmatyar and his group Hizb-i-Islami, like the Haqqani’s, are allied with the Taliban.  And let’s not forget one more “freedom fighter,” a rich young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, who, in 1984, founded the "Services Office" in Peshawar, Pakistan, to recruit, support, and fund those “freedom fighters,” and in 1988, formed a group called al-Qaeda (“The Base”) to further his vision.
The Soviets, of course, left Afghanistan in 1989 in defeat.  For Washington, the freedom fighters, soon to be at each others’ throats in a horrific civil war that left yet more dead Afghans in its wake, became the forgettables.  And in a sense, they are still forgotten.  These days, how often does anyone remember that a number of our present foes, the evil terrorists who must be destroyed, were our former pals and heroes.  (Or that some of the warlords in or allied with the present Afghan government of Hamid Karzai were both mujahedeen and monsters of that civil war era.)  Week in, week out, you can read the latest reports from the Afghan War filled with what should be a remarkably familiar cast of characters, and never find a single word about this past.  All of this has gone down the memory hole no less easily than did the history of Eastasia, Oceania, and Eurasia in Winston Smith’s Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain).
If this is commonplace history, isn’t it Orwellian, 11 years into our second Afghan War in three decades, how seldom it’s ever mentioned?  And given today’s post, toss this into the hopper: there’s an even stranger part of the story that Orwell didn’t imagine, and it concerns neighboring Pakistan, a country that seems eternally to be both ally and enemy (frenemy?), so much so that it’s almost impossible to sort out Washington’s two Pakistans.. Read more:

WHO ARE THE GUILTY? Report of an inquiry into the causes & impact of the riots in Delhi (October-November 1984)

A fact-finding team jointly organised by one People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and people's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in the course of investigations from November 1 to November 10, has come to the conclusion that the attacks on members of the Sikh Community in Delhi and its suburbs during the period, far from being a spontaneous expression of "madness" and of popular "grief and anger" at Mrs. Gandhi's assassination as made out to be by the authorities, were the outcome of a well organised plan marked by acts of both deliberate commissions and omissions by important politicians of the Congress (I) at the top and by authorities in the administration. Although there was the handiwork of a determined group which was inspired by different sentiments altogether.

The People’s Union For Democratic Rights and People's Union For Civil Liberties place on record their gratitude for the valuable information given by the survivors of the carnage at tremendous risk of their lives, the volunteers of the Nagrik Ekta Manch and many others who by their dedicated work made possible the investigation and publication of this report.

The first edition of our report was sold out within a fortnight. We are bringing out the 
present edition - with a post-script. Our report is primarily based on case studies -carried out in the trans-jamuna and West Delhi areas. It is by no means exhaustive and covers only partially the killings, arson and brutalities committed in other parts of Delhi. Memories of the holocaust and the plight of the survivors have been pushed into the background by the shrill campaign for the approaching election. No efforts have been made to restore peace and confidence among the Sikhs. Our inquiries reveal that till now there has been neither any serious attempt to bring the culprits to book, nor any sincere effort to rehabilitate the victims.

Both are necessary in view of the long term implications of the holocaust that took place in Delhi in the first week of November. At the same time, an understanding of historical background to the events is necessary. Although the present booklet does no purport to go into the details of the crisis in the Punjab, it is essential to point out important stages leading to the Delhi events - the dithering attitude of the center in solving the outstanding social and political problems of Punjab, and encouraging Hindu and Sikh communalism, to feed upon each other; the rise of the Sikh fundamentalists who stepped in to fill the vacuum created by the absence of effective secular and democratic forces, the failure of Sikh political leaders and intellectuals to protest against the continued depredation by the extremists; the increasing separatist and communal tensions generated by Bhindranwale and his followers inside the Punjab (encouraged initially by leaders of the ruling party) on the one hand, and by self appointed proponents of Khalistan living outside India on the other; and the Hindu backlash in reaction to the image of the Sikh as an insolent fanatic, that was taking shape in the Hindu mind.

The aftermath of the Delhi holocaust threatens to be as menacing as what followed the above mentioned series of events in the Punjab during the last two years. The recent riots prove that the Government has given licence to Hindu communalism and a handle to Sikh fundamentalism. The victims of the carnage as well as other members of the Sikh community, out of fear and insecurity, may increasingly tend to think in terms of separation and religious exclusiveness. It is because of this that the responsibility of secular and democratic-minded citizens to reassure the Sikh community is of paramount importance. The latter will have to be reminded that just as the creation of states based on islamic fundamentalism, whether in Pakistan or Iran, have not solved the basic economic and social problems of Muslims there, Khalistan cannot solve the problems of Sikhs. It will not only lead to the emergence of yet another nation run by religious zealots and riddled with divisions among the Sikhs themselves, but create a fertile ground for legitimizing authoritarian rule by the Hindu majority inside India. Download the full report:

Also see: 
A Hard Rain Falling: on the death of TP Chandrasekharan and related matters. EPW "... In 1984 the Congress transformed itself into yet another vehicle for communal hooliganism; and thereafter protected the criminals. This allowed the RSS to drag the very idea of moderate constitutionalism through the mud and slime. The habit of self-deceit progressed by leaps and bounds. For example, reports about communal incidents generally tend to name (or hint at) this or that community, but for 1984, a political category came into play: ‘Congress killed Sikhs’. (Were there Bahais and Parsis in the streets?). Here too, mobs shouting communal slogans were desecrating shrines and killing people to assert the superiority of one religion over another. And many residents of Delhi were enjoying the spectacle. But judging from the typical responses to any discussion of Gujarat in 2002, the RSS is delighted at the precedent – it enables them to say ‘What of it? The Congress did the same in 1984’. For the Sangh Parivar, it appears that one massacre deserves another. One little fact tells a big story however – the number of BJP MP’s elected to the 1985 Lok Sabha was precisely two, because Hindutva ideologues and their voters had switched to the Congress. This is why fascism cannot simply be reduced to partisan affiliations, even if some parties propagate fascist ideas whilst others make pragmatic adjustments to it. And the ruthless practice of certain Leftists completes the picture. What we are witnessing is the criminalisation of the polity – and I’m not referring to a head count of MPs. The process intensifies with every instance of impunity..."

And: Terrifying implications of the SC's Staines Judgement
Armies of the Pure: the question of Indian fascism 

Kinder, gentler Maoists will stop brutal execution methods

Maoist rebels in India will put an end to their most brutal methods of execution, a senior rebel leader has told the BBC.
Maoist rebels are known to have killed their victims - mostly security forces or civilians suspected to be police informers - using brutal methods. But rebels say they will now shoot their enemies, rather than hacking people to death or slitting throats. They say this follows an internal row over the 2009 killing of a policeman. Francis Induwar was killed by rebels in Jharkhand in 2009 by having his throat slit. His killing sparked off a debate among the rebels, Communist Party of India (Maoist) spokesperson Manas - who uses only one name - told the BBC. Subsequent killings were also heavily criticised by human rights groups.
Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of tribal people and the landless poor. The areas where the Maoists are most active are some of the least developed in the country and in desperate need of infrastructure. "We have now gradually started to do away with such methods which are considered cruel," Manas said. But incidents of brutal executions by rebels continue to be reported from the states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where the Maoists are most active.
Last week rebels chopped off the hands of two shepherds, whom they suspected to be police informers in Jharkhand. And on Monday, the rebels hacked a member of an anti-insurgent vigilante group to death in Chhattisgarh. Police said the rebels left behind a note justifying the killing saying that the man had killed local tribals in 2006.
Manas said he was "not sure" who had carried out the attack on shepherds in Jharkhand since there were a number of splinter rebel groups in the state. He said the rebel leadership was carrying out a probe into the incident. Earlier this month, rebels belonging to one such group beat to death a couple suspected of living together near the state capital, Ranchi..

Is Sandy a taste of things to come?

We should not be surprised. That's the view of many climate scientists as they survey the destruction wrought by the superstorm that ravaged the Northeast this week. The melting of Arctic ice, rising sea levels, the warming atmosphere and changes to weather patterns are a potent combination likely to produce storms and tidal surges of unprecedented intensity, according to many experts.

Recognizing the threat, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is developing a strategy for mitigating the growing risk from storm surges and flooding along the city's 500 miles of coastline. In such a densely-populated area of so much expensive real estate, surrounded by a complex web of estuaries, tides and ocean, it is a huge challenge. And in the face of global changes, even a city as inventive as New York can only do so much.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2007 that the global average sea level would rise between seven and 23 inches by the end of this century. More recent projections suggest that the melting of sea ice could mean a rise in excess of 30 inches. The New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force translated that into a local projection of 2 to 5 inches by the 2020s, and with rapid Arctic ice melt the rise could be as much as 5 to 10 inches over the next fifteen years. Combine that with a trend toward more intense storms and New York is "highly vulnerable," professor Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University told CNN. "(Superstorm) Sandy is a foretaste of things to come," he predicted, "from the combination of bigger storms and higher sea levels, both of which contribute equally to the growing threat." Read more:

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Noam Chomsky, "The Most Dangerous Moment," 50 Years Later

The Week the World Stood Still 
The Cuban Missile Crisis and Ownership of the World 
By Noam Chomsky

The world stood still 50 years ago during the last week of October, from the moment when it learned that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba until the crisis was officially ended -- though unknown to the public, only officially. The image of the world standing still is the turn of phrase of Sheldon Stern, former historian at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, who published the authoritative version of the tapes of the ExComm meetings where Kennedy and a close circle of advisers debated how to respond to the crisis.  Those meetings were secretly recorded by the president, which might bear on the fact that his stand throughout the recorded sessions is relatively temperate compared to other participants, who were unaware that they were speaking to history. 

Stern has just published an accessible and accurate review of this critically important documentary record, finally declassified in the late 1990s.  I will keep to that here. “Never before or since,” he concludes, “has the survival of human civilization been at stake in a few short weeks of dangerous deliberations,” culminating in “the week the world stood still.”

There was good reason for the global concern.  A nuclear war was all too imminent, a war that might “destroy the Northern Hemisphere,” President Dwight Eisenhower had warned.  Kennedy’s own judgment was that the probability of war might have been as high as 50%. Estimates became higher as the confrontation reached its peak and the “secret doomsday plan to ensure the survival of the government was put into effect” in Washington, as described by journalist Michael Dobbs in his well-researched bestseller on the crisis (though he doesn’t explain why there would be much point in doing so, given the likely nature of nuclear war). Dobbs quotes Dino Brugioni, “a key member of the CIA team monitoring the Soviet missile buildup,” who saw no way out except “war and complete destruction” as the clock moved to “one minute to midnight,” the title of his book.  Kennedy’s close associate, historian Arthur Schlesinger, described the events as “the most dangerous moment in human history.” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara wondered aloud whether he “would live to see another Saturday night,” and later recognized that “we lucked out” -- barely.

“The Most Dangerous Moment”
A closer look at what took place adds grim overtones to these judgments, with reverberations to the present moment. There are several candidates for “the most dangerous moment.” One is October 27th, when U.S. destroyers enforcing a quarantine around Cuba were dropping depth charges on Soviet submarines.  According to Soviet accounts, reported by the National Security Archive, submarine commanders were “rattled enough to talk about firing nuclear torpedoes, whose 15 kiloton explosive yields approximated the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in August 1945.”

In one case, a reported decision to assemble a nuclear torpedo for battle readiness was aborted at the last minute by Second Captain Vasili Arkhipov, who may have saved the world from nuclear disaster.  There is little doubt what the U.S. reaction would have been had the torpedo been fired, or how the Russians would have responded as their country was going up in smoke... Read more:

See also: Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war

Monday, 29 October 2012

Tibetan mountain finch rediscovered after 80 years

It has been missing for 80 years but Sillem's Mountain Finch has now been rediscovered on the Tibetan plateau by a trekker who was too ill to leave camp.
The mountain finch has been an enigma ever since its discovery in 1929, not least because it wasn't identified until 1992. Two specimens of the sparrow-sized grey and white bird with a russet head were collected by Dutch ornithologist Jerome Alexander Sillem on an expedition to the Karakoram mountain range in 1929. Nowadays this is the disputed border region of China, India and Pakistan and a no-go area for birders.
Sillem's mountain finch (Image: Yann Muzika)
The specimens were labelled as a race of Brandt's Mountain Finch (Leucosticte brandti) and consigned to a drawer in the Amsterdam Zoological Museum. And there they remained until 1992 when a modern-day Dutch ornithologist, Kees Roselaar, opened the drawer and realised the two specimens were a distinctive species in their own right. And he named the new species Leucosticte sillemi - after the original finder. But then the trail went cold - until June this year when French nature photographer Yann Muzika was trekking in the Yenigou valley of Qinghai province in China. However, he contracted food poisoning on the eve of departure and was soon confined to camp.
Yann takes up the story: "After the second day, I decided to take a day break and explore the surroundings as much as my condition would allow. "It was a trek, not a birdwatching trip, but I was nevertheless carrying a camera and a 400 mm lens, just in case. "I came across a flock of Tibetan Rosefinches (Carpodacus roborowskii) and with them there was a single bird that I did not know, resembling a Brandt's Mountain Finch but with a rufous head instead of dark brown. I took one picture before the bird flew away."On my return home, I just downloaded the pictures and left them for a few weeks. I still couldn't identify the finch but in the Birds of China field guide there was a brief description of Sillem's Mountain Finch that seemed to match pretty well... but then we were talking of a bird that had not been seen since 1929. "As I was reaching the limits of my expertise on birds, I sent the picture and others taken during the trek to Krys Kazmierczak who manages theOriental Bird Images database for the Oriental Bird Club."
He immediately realised the significance of the "mystery bird" photo that had been emailed to him. He told BBC News: "When I saw the excellent photo of the mystery bird my immediate thought was Sillem's Mountain Finch! However, being of a cautious disposition I did quite a bit of checking and consultation with others. "Now we are pretty sure that it is Sillem's Mountain Finch, especially since it has been endorsed by Kees Roselaar, who simply said: 'Fantastic! At last the proof that sillemi still exists'."
The June 2012 bird was found 1,500 km to the east of the original sighting in 1929 and the Oriental Bird Club is now urging birdwatchers to search for the bird above 5,000m over a vast swathe of high altitude Pakistan, China and Tibet.

A concerned dragon: China’s fresh overture to Tibetans: Jayadeva Ranade

More than 56 Tibetans have now set themselves on fire to protest Chinese policies since the series of self-immolations began in the Sichuan town of Aba in 2009. Read more »
As China prepares to usher in a new leadership at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to open in Beijing on November 8, there is mounting concern in senior echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the rising resentment in the ethnic Tibetan minority. Particularly worrying would have been the self-immolation on October 15, by the grandfather of the 10-year old Beijing-recognised VIIth Gungthang Rinpoche, which highlights the strained relationship between Tibetans and Communist authorities. A new feature is that recently thousands of Tibetans, disregarding heavy armed police presence, assemble at sites of the self-immolations to pray for the deceased and mark the spot.
In a recent apparent bid to ease these tensions, Chinese authorities quietly sent an emissary and contacted Tibetan leaders in Dharamsala. Thinly cloaked as a venture of ‘Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation’ (APECF), a Chinese government-sponsored NGO manned by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres, the initiative seeks to revive plans to consolidate and expand China’s presence in Nepal and ingress India and its border regions, ostensibly by encouraging Buddhist tourism in Lumbini in Nepal. At least one executive director of APECF has links to China’s military establishment.
Xiao Wunan, a senior CCP cadre and executive vice-president of APECF visitedIndia and was received in Dharamsala on August 16 by the Dalai Lama, Lobsang Sangay, then ‘Kalon Tripa’ (prime minister) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and Ugyen Thinley Dorjee, who is formally approved by the Dalai Lama and Beijing as the XVIIth Gyalwa Karmapa, or head of the Karma Kargyu sect. Xiao Wunan was accompanied by Gong Tingyu, a Deputy Secretary General of APECF and Simon Kei Shek Ming, reportedly a journalist of the Hong Kong magazine Yazhou Zhoukan. 
During his meeting with the Dalai Lama, Xiao Wunan probably carried a personal message from a senior Chinese leader, possibly Xi Jinping. He could have informed the Dalai Lama that he was welcome to spend his last days in Beijing provided he gave up ‘anti-China’ activities and expressed support for the Communist regime. Xiao Wunan’s meeting with Lobsang Sangay, elected head of the CTA, is significant. It suggests Beijing may be willing to talk to its representatives. Lobsang Sangay is also ‘known’ to the UFWD for facilitating contacts between Chinese academics and the Dalai Lama. Coincidentally, within a month of the meeting the designation of the Head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was changed from ‘Kalon Tripa’ (or prime minister) to the less controversial — from Beijing’s perspective —’Sikyong’ (or political leader).
Xiao Wunan’s meeting with Ugyen Thinley Dorjee reportedly ended abruptly when the monk took offence at the tenor of his questions. Xiao Wunan’s photograph with Ugyen Thinley Dorjee is, however, posted on APECF’s website. Xiao Wunan also visited Nalanda when he met officials of the proposed university and assured financial assistance. In Delhi he met officials in the Ministries of Culture and Tourism. Returning to Kathmandu, Xiao Wunan disingenuously announced that APECF now has the support of the Government of India and would be organising three and four-day package tours for Buddhist pilgrims travelling from Lumbini to India.
Interestingly, Xiao Wunan separated from an official Chinese delegation visiting Kathmandu to visit India. The Chinese delegation included Zou Lanming, vice general manager of the Lanzhou-based China Railway 21st Bureau. Xiao Wunan’s presence could suggest China plans to extend the railway from Xigaze to possibly Lumbini, on the border with India. A month later Xiao Wunan announced that APECF had signed an MoU with UK’s Vertical Theme Park (VTP) Group for a Lumbini Cloud Tower project, with the Nepal Government’s approval. Nepal’s My Republica on October 11, reported the Nepal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation’s denial that it was aware of any deal to develop Lumbini as an ‘international peace city’. Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party-Marxist Leninist (UCP-ML), however, continues to be a vice president of APECF.
Meanwhile the CCP’s policy governing Tibetans, of combining economic incentives with intense political persuasion, remains unchanged. In an unusually candid interview to the Party mouthpiece People’s Daily on September 21, 2012, Chen Quanguo, party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), enumerated the economic benefits extended to the people of Tibet. Disclosing measures to ensure ‘social stability’, he listed that 21,804 cadres had been sent to work in 5,451 administrative villages, that the Party had compiled complete sets of files and that 698 police stations had been established. All monasteries and temples now have photographs of the ‘four leaders’ (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao), the national flag and a copy each of the People’s Daily and Tibet Daily. A project has also been started to ‘cultivate’ 100 senior monks and ‘guide’ Tibetan Buddhism to ‘adapt itself to socialist society’.
The author is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India 

China protesters force halt to Zhejiang factory plan

The huge growth in China's economy has come at a huge environmental cost. Many Chinese are becoming more environmentally aware and are deeply concerned about pollution
On Friday, crowds opposed to the expansion attacked police in the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province. Officials from Ningbo's city government announced on Sunday evening that work on the project would now not go ahead. Environmental protests have become more common in China. They come ahead of a once-in-a-decade change of national leaders in Beijing.
Protesters gathered again in Ningbo on Sunday, marching on the offices of the district government. They are opposed to the expansion of the plant by a subsidiary of the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation. "There is very little public confidence in the government," protester Liu Li told the Associated Press. "Who knows if they are saying this just to make us leave and then keep on doing the project," she added. Read more:

A Very Unusual Camera That Emphasizes Time Over Space

The abstract-seeming images here are not the result of some wacky Photoshopping. Jay Mark Johnson’s photos are actually incredibly precise. The reason they look like this is because he uses a slit camera that emphasizes time over space. Whatever remains still is smeared into stripes, while the motion of crashing waves, cars and a Tai Chi master’s hands are registered moment by moment, as they pass his camera by.  Like an EKG showing successive heartbeats, the width of an object corresponds not to distance or size, but the rate of movement. Viewing the left side of the picture is not looking leftward in space but backward in time..

Johnson—an architect, painter, political activist, cinematic special-effects designer, and student of cognitive sciences—probably would not have come up with the idea, himself, were it not for a chance discovery. He had purchased a $85,000 rotating slit-scan camera for high-resolution panoramas. (The camera records vast landscapes sliver by sliver.) Finding the accidental effects of motion in front of the camera strangely poetic, he experimented with stopping the rotation and honing in on one tiny area. These images are the result... 

See more:

Controversy over Jaipal Reddy's transfer from Oil Ministry - NAPM condemns UPA reeling under Reliance Pressure

Jaipal Reddy, who is seen as the biggest loser in the cabinet reshuffle, is deeply upset by his transfer from the Oil Ministry to Science and Technology, widely perceived as a demotion. Mr Reddy's aborted term as Oil Minister has been attributed to his run-in with Reliance Industries, owned by Mukesh Ambani. The minister refused to comment on his exit, but supporters say his options are limited, and while he is reportedly considering registering some sort of protest with his party, he will have to ride out the impact of his move.

Mr Reddy took over as Oil Minister last year, replacing Murli Deora. He took on Reliance on multiple fronts over its DG gas fields in the Krishna Godavari (KG) basin off India's east coast.  Once India's second-biggest producer of natural gas, the DG fields have been under-performing. The Reliance-led consortium has said the problems are related to geological complexities. But Mr Reddy had asked arbitrators to look at the matter. Reliance says it should be paid more for the natural gas it produces from the D6 fields because global prices of gas have been climbing. Mr Reddy refused. Just last week, after months of warring, the Oil Ministry signed off on the company's plans to increase the output of natural gas.

The government also agreed that its auditor, the CAG, is not entitled to audit Reliance Industries for performance which would have measured the efficacies of the processes and technology it uses in its deep-sea operations. A financial audit of the company's spending on the KG-D6 block will however proceed. The Oil Ministry had withheld approvals for Reliance's investment plans for the gas fields arguing that it must first allow an audit of the KG-D6 field from 2008-2012. With a compromise reached on the audit, RIL can now implement urgent remedial measures at KG-D6 where output has dipped by more than 55 per cent in past two years. In 2009, an audit by CAG had questioned the rationale of costs as billed by Reliance and had recommended that the government reconsider the profit-sharing agreement with the company. 
Read more:

 NAPM Press Release: 28th October 2012, Hyderabad
NAPM condemns UPA reeling under Reliance Pressure
Challenges transfer and pricing of Natural Resources against Nation’s Interest
No Privatization of Minerals and No forcible Acquisition for Private Projects

The news that the Petroleum minister Jaipal Reddy is again to be replaced by someone else, repeating the incidence that took place few years ago when Mani Shankar aiyar was replaced by Murli Deora, Ambani’s childhood friend. The very fact that Jaipal Reddy was the one who questioned the irrational demand by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) on escalating the prices of natural gas ,irrespective of the decision and agreement by the union government and RIL on the price to be steady till 2014,  this is one more example, just one of many related to RIL, one of the largest corporates in the country, pulling strings to change the player in the political domain that challenges its activities ,especially huge or even vulgar profit making.

NAPM condemns this, as an evidence of politician-corporate nexus and joint crime against people, who are left deprived when not the State exchequer but the corporates’ accounts are filled and swelling. It is Shocking and disgusting that even when the congress and NCP leaders are challenged at the center and in states, for their involvement in illegal allocation and transfer of land and other resources, at the cost of the public interest; they still have guts to take such an action mainly to give the Ambani’s a clean field. A stratergy to counter this will be worked out in its upcoming National Convention (9th biennial), from 17th to 19th November, at village Kiraloor, 15 Kms from Thrissur, Kerala.

While the loss that would occur if the price hike was accepted is quoted to be $ 6.3 billion, with the undue spread and spell of the RIL across the country and the sectors ranging from Oil & Gas to Infrastructure, telecommunications, theatres, retail, health, education.. right up to Satyamev Jayate, there is no doubt that it may go much beyond even the DLF’s swell, already exposed. It is the wicked game of acquisition of lands, with minerals attached to land, allocation of deep sea blocks, or transfer of the richest of our Nation’s Natural Resources to these private players; that is the worst and the highest level of misappropriation by the present rulers.

The millionaires such as Ambanis have been putting all undue pressures either through PMO, Minister or even through media, seeking concessions; while farmers without subsidy are compelled to commit suicides. It is high time that country demands total nationalization of our mineral resources, the only wealth that is luxuriously expended without any concern, neither for the State’s earning, nor for the environmental impacts and loss of livelihoods to the local populations of farmers and fish workers.

The Krishna Godavari basin issue was distortedly and deliberately presented as if the RIL were to limit its extraction of Natural gas worth approx $ 3 billion dollars, very recently. The fact is that on one hand this has been the tactic to get higher and higher price for their “Natural Product”, while on other hand it is the high incidence of subsidence (sinking of land) in the KG basin that should have compelled them to do so. Resulting in the sea ingress and destruction of paddy lands, as also threatening the habitats and livelihood of millions of people in the Basin, such an ecological impact should have been monitored by the Ministry of Environment & Forest. MOEF, just as other ministries have also been relying upon not laws or policies, nor public hearings but the RIL to plan its targets and profits, violating the laws.

Other examples of this include the power projects granted to Ambani, one in the name of Common wealth games and others without checking the economic feasibility and environmental sustainability, in fact the Reliance work in a threatened eco system of KG basin must come to a halt and this giant monstrous corporate must be prevented from any further investment and favours to facilitation for adding to its unconstitutional wealth, that is costing crores of toiling citizens in the country, destitution, malnourishment, unemployment to homelessness and hunger.

In this regard the Supreme Court can if it wishes to take a suo moto cognizance of the CAG reports to media reports, even in the frame work of its own judgment on 2G spectrum and beyond. If it does not, the People’s Movements that are fighting for no forcible acquisition of natural resources by the State for the private and PPP projects, simultaneously questioning pushing of plans and projects that transfer the resources from people to profiteers; will have to raise voice against “Unreliable  Reliance”. The new Bill soon to be put up before the parliament is another attempt to continue the forcible acquisition for the private corporates and builders; bypassing the unanimous report by the all party parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development. This needs to be questioned and plans of, not only Ambanis but of Jindals, Tatas, Mittals, Adanis, Hiranandani to DLFs all are to be curtailed.

In Place of a weak Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill; National Alliance of People’s Movements demands a Democratic Development Planning Act following the constitutional frame work of local self governance.

Medha Patkar
B.Ramakrishnam Raju
Saraswati Kavula
Shashank Rajwadi
For Details contact Madhuresh - 09818905316 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Hannah Arendt’s conception of Sovereignty

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl and Jerome Kohn

The original dialogue was published in French in a volume entitled Hannah Arendt: Crises de l’Etat-nation (2007).

JK. A word about the backstory to the following conversation may be in order. Elisabeth and I met in 1968 in Hannah Arendt’s seminar on “Political Experiences in the Twentieth Century.” Studying under the guidance of a woman who had lived through the worst of those experiences, and probably better than anyone understood their unprecedentedness, was itself a remarkable experience – one we’ve talked and written about before. In Arendt’s seminar we also learned something no less remarkable about the art of thinking. If in its purest form thinking is a world-withdrawn activity, a swift, silent dialogue conducted by the thinking ego with itself, Arendt showed us by her own example that thinking also can be active in a conversation between people who, while not withdrawn from the world, find themselves in a space defined by a kind of decorum. The space of Arendt’s seminar was strictly bounded by the political narratives and testimonies she selected for us to read and discuss, where she, as first among equals (primus inter pares), was somehow able to establish equality as the common desideratum of everyone participating in the seminar. 

Which is to say that for a few hours each week we came together in a sort of public space, or at least in an ambience of political friendship, of philia politik , as Aristotle called it. There the self did not divide into the two-in-one of the thinking ego, but on the contrary, we strove to become each other’s other self, which, again according to Aristotle, is the consummation, the telos, of friendship. One could say, metaphorically, that the seminar was like the rehearsal and occasionally the performance of a concerto, in which, under Arendt’s direction, the solo parts were passed back and forth in a community of friends. Elisabeth and I so much enjoyed this manner of speaking, which by no means precluded contestation or debate, but was founded and depended on an underlying harmony or agreement, that for forty years we’ve relished every opportunity to revive it. Therefore, following Arendt as best we can, we will attempt to engage not only each other but also you in the spirit of Aristotlean friendship. Our topic is the controversial one of political sovereignty.

If Arendt had written a single essay on sovereignty rather than writing about it in a number of different places, she might have given it the title: “What Was Sovereignty?” So it seems consistent with her mode of thinking, which was also Aristotle’s, to begin by briefly looking back to the primary historical manifestation of national sovereignty in sixteenth century France. There is an Italian background to its French development, insofar as Niccolò Machiavelli at the beginning of the century, around 1513, first used the word “state” (il stato) to refer to what emerged – though in Italy not before more than three hundred years had passed – as the modern nation-state. In 1576 Jean Bodin’s Six livres de la république, which was written during the divisive religious wars in France, called for both a fully sovereign monarchy and religious toleration. The two appeals were interrelated: the need Bodin saw for sovereign political power to put an end to the chaos of civil war in France was likewise the condition under which Catholics and Protestants would come to tolerate each other. Bodin’s theory came to life, so to speak, when in 1593 Henri of Navarre, who was raised a Huguenot, on his march to sovereign power suddenly converted to Catholicism, saying “Paris vaut bien une messe” (“Paris is well worth a mass”). But then in 1598, as Henri IV, the first Bourbon king of France, he promulgated the Edict of Nantes, which granted Huguenots the freedom to worship according to the dictates of their conscience. The sovereign power of the state, a power above any other power, not excluding that of religious institutions, brought to an end, at least for a time, the devastation of France by Frenchmen. It is no wonder that Arendt always referred to France as “the nation-state par excellence,” for France was the first and foremost national state to emerge from medieval feudalism.   
There is much more, of course, to be said about the history of the concept of sovereignty than can be gone into here. Already in the next century the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius set forth a body of laws between single nations – laws of nature, as he called them – whose scope, being international, set limits to sovereign power. His laws of war, for example, respected the lives and protected the property of private persons whose lands were invaded by foreign armies. His theory of international law would be examined in later centuries and today, after the twentieth century’s two disastrous World Wars, is the subject of renewed interest; but in the seventeenth century neither actual sovereigns or Thomas Hobbes, Grotius’s near contemporary, paid it much heed. 

Hobbes was the first modern political philosopher and the staunchest, subtlest, and perhaps most prescient of all exponents of political sovereignty. His basic insight is that the equality of men lies in the ability of the weakest to kill the strongest, “either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himself.” Since they live in “continual fear, and danger of violent death,” men in their natural or pre-political state “have no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deal of grief, in keeping company.” In Hobbes’s well known words, their lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Leviathan, 13), even if the word “short” might seem to someone less fearful than Hobbes perhaps misplaced. Be that as it may, it is their political organization into sovereign states that alone removes men from their natural state and relieves or prevents them from behaving like wolves to their fellow men (homo homini lupus). But in a world that has witnessed political crimes exceeding anything Hobbes imagined in the state of nature, some contemporary Hobbesians think he would admit the right of an international body to intercede in the internal affairs of a sovereign state that fosters genocide or the so-called “ethnic cleansing” of a minority within its borders. Perhaps, but it is also possible that these Hobbesians, in their effort to adapt the past to the future, have forgotten the structure and even the delimited purpose of the commonwealth Hobbes constructs.

The fear of violent death is the ground from which Hobbes’s’ commonwealth arises. His commonwealth, which he calls Leviathan, is an “artificial man,” a “mortal God,” that “overawes” its subjects, who willingly forfeit what we call political rights, retaining only the “natural” right to preserve their lives by any means available to them in cases of prosecution and war. What Hobbes calls “mixed government” or “diversity of opinions” – which Aristotle mentions favorably – can only weaken the “absolute power” of Leviathan (Ibid., 29), an artifact forged from distinct individuals who want and need its protection so they themselves can flourish and further their private, chiefly economic, interests. It is in exchange for security that they willingly forego the public expression of their opinions and forfeit their ability to join in concerted action. The “absolute” or “sovereign” power of Hobbes’s commonwealth means that justice and law are what it decrees them to be – and not what any international body deems them to be. With his relentless logic, Hobbes does not shy away from the fact that Leviathan is a tyranny, for “tyranny, signifieth nothing more, nor less, than the name of sovereignty.” Read the full text:

Burma clashes force 22,000 to flee homes

More than 22,000 people have been forced to flee the latest flareup between ethnic Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Burma, a leading UN official has said, as victims of the sectarian violence flocked to already packed displacement camps along the country's western coast. Some of those escaping the violence arrived in wooden boats outside the capital of Arakan state, Sittwe, on Sunday and headed to the nearby Thechaung camp, a place already home to thousands of Rohingya who took refuge there after a previous wave of violence in June.
"I fled my hometown, Pauktaw, on Friday because there is no security at all," said 42-year-old fisherman Maung Myint, who arrived on a boat carrying 40 other people, including his wife and six children. "My house was burned to ashes and I have no money left." Another Muslim refugee said she fled her village, Kyaukphyu, on Thursday after attackers set her home on fire. "We don't feel safe," said 40-year old Zainabi, a fish-seller who left with her two teenage sons. "I wish the violence would stop so we can live peacefully." Human Rights Watch released dramatic satellite imagery of Kyaukphyu on Saturday showing a large area of the predominantly Rohingya part of the village in ashes. More than 800 buildings and floating barges were destroyed.
Myanmar's government has put the death toll at 67 over the past week, saying a further 95 were injured in seven townships in Arakan state. The casualty figures have not been broken down by ethnic group, but Human Rights Watch said the Rohingya had suffered the brunt of the violence. The New York-based rights group also said the true death toll may be far higher, based on witness accounts and the government's history of minimising news that might reflect badly on it.
The border affairs minister, Lt General Thein Htay, travelled to the affected areas with the UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Burma, Ashok Nigam. Nigam said 22,587 people were displaced, including both Muslims and Buddhists, but he gave no breakdown. Some 4,600 homes were also destroyed, according to the UN, which said in a separate statement that it had begun distributing emergency food and shelter supplies with its humanitarian partners.
The latest unrest pushes the total displaced to nearly 100,000 since clashes broke out in June.. 

Working class heroes: Architect Martand Khosla recreates the world of Delhi’s labour

Martand Khosla’s first work of art found an unlikely canvas, but one that gave him a wide viewership: the cover of last year’s critically acclaimed book A Free Man by journalist Aman Sethi. Khosla, who is an architect by training, made the frontal portrait of the man – a worker at one of the buildings he had designed – in 2009, with rubber stamps: symbols of state authority that are inextricably linked to the lives of workers. The image led to a wider series, which together with a larger body of work from the last three years, makes an appearance in City of Hope –  his first solo exhibition. 
“I felt very compelled to look at the issues I deal with as an architect. I get to look at the macro scale – master plans and how the urban organism is growing, stretching and expanding outwards,” Khosla told Time Out. “At the same time, I’ve always had a relationship with the people who are actually building the buildings that I have designed over the years.” Khosla’s architectural practice and interactions with workers inform his vocabulary as an artist. In the exhibition, the material composition of each work is inseparably linked to a critique of urban planning, and there is a constant interplay between the macro and micro, the individual and the built forms in the city. “One of the recurring ideas in my work has been the idea of transformation: its inherently fragile nature and its repetitive condition,” he said. “I am trying to confront the idea of hope, tied to the urban condition and its inevitable subsequent hopelessness.”
Khosla became interested in the social infrastructure within cities soon after earning his master’s in the UK in 2001, but it was a series of incidents that led to the creation of that first portrait. First, there was the overnight disappearance of a slum near a HIV and TB hospice he was designing at GB Road, then conversations with a site worker who had been evicted from a slum and was trying to prove his residential claim to resettlement, and then a 2010 newspaper report about seven slum fires in Delhi in a single week. “You wonder what direction we’re taking as cities,” he said. “I wanted to understand the relationship between the state and displaced citizens from a social, legal and political point of view.”
Early works, such as the rubber-stamp portrait series “Without Any Title”, engaged with the relationship between the disen­franchised worker-citizen and the state. Made from digitally reworked photographs of workers at construction sites, these shadowy, passport-photograph like images capture men and women whose identity is defined by the rubber stamps that render them visible.
Another set of early installations interpret jurisprudence and the urban poor, using the text of the landmark 1986 Olga Tellis judgment, which linked the the right to housing and livelihood with the constitutional right to life. “In the ’80s, you have these judgments that talk about the responsibilities of the government towards migrants in the cities. Post-liberalisation you see a very different language,” Khosla said.
The installations also look at the wider world of unorganised urban labour. For instance, a broken cart laden with paper fruit covered with text from the Tellis judgment hints at the gap between legal justice and reality. Khosla also wove handbags using paper strips of the judgment text, with tools of a painter, carpenter and plumber in them, evoking the common image of workers squatting with their tools each morning and waiting for people to hire them, in labour chowks across Delhi... Read more:

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Two Tibetan cousins set themselves on fire in China

Two Tibetan cousins set fire to themselves in their village to protestChinese rule, bringing the total number of self-immolations this week to seven, the highest since the protests began last year, a rights group said on Saturday. The London-based group Free Tibet said cousins Tsepo, 20, and Tenzin, 25, called for independence for Tibet as they set themselves on fire on Thursday in front of a government building in their village in Biru county north of Lhasa, Tibet's main city. Tsepo reportedly died and Tenzin's condition was unknown after he was taken away by authorities, Free Tibet said.
Dozens of ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire in heavily Tibetan regions since March 2011 to protest what activists say is Beijing's heavy-handed rule in the region. Many have called for the return of the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader. The protests have intensified as Beijing nears a once-a-decade power transfer in early November.
On Friday, a 24-year-old Tibetan farmer, Lhamo Tseten, died from self-immolation near a military base and a government office in Amuquhu town in Xiahe county in western China's Gansu province, Free Tibet said. China's official Xinhua News Agency reported the self-immolation of a Tibetan man by the same name, though it gave slightly different details. Xinhua said Lhamo was a 23-year-old villager and that he set himself on fire near a hospital.
Later on Friday, Tsepag Kyab, 21, set fire to himself and died, also in Amuquhu town, the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile said. Earlier reports said three other Tibetans died after setting themselves on fire in the past week in Xiahe county. Calls to local governments in the area rang unanswered Saturday. Xiahe is home to Labrang Monastery, one of the most important outside of Tibet and the site of numerous protests by monks following deadly ethnic violence in Tibet in 2008 that was the most sustained Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in decades.
Police in the region are offering a reward of $7,700 (£4,700) for information about planned self-immolations in a bid to stem the protests.

Obituary: Comrade SITARAM SHASTRY

Sitaram Shastry died on 24.10.2012 by jumping in front of a running train between Adityapur and Gamaria station near Jamshedpur. It was at a place where the train was going over bridge some thirty feet above the river. His body was thrown down. It lay near the calmly flowing river. He was about 72 year old.

A week before he was diagnosed as having throat cancer. His daughter Kanti Prabha (Chinu) and her husband had come from Delhi to take him to Delhi for treatment. On the day they were supposed to fly out, he left home early morning and did not return. When contacted on his mobile he said he will not come back and that they should not try to look for him. Then he switched off his phone.

From 1968 onwards, till his death, Sitaram had been a full time revolutionary/social activist. Till then he had worked for LIC in Jamshedpur and was a union leader. That year, like many other places in India, a lot of young people turned towards revolution. In Jamshedpur quite a few TELCO workers resigned, collected their PF and joined the revolutionary movement. Those were heady times.

Some of his special qualities were apparent from the very beginning the first and foremost being his extraordinary courageousness. He never feared any one, never feared having a different opinion and lived his life exactly on his own terms. He had great mobility – both in space and across a wide section of people. He also had a great understanding of the region - Jharkhand, which only improved with his wide travels in every nook and corner of the region and his interaction with every section of the Jharkhand movement. Sitaram worked tirelessly for the Jharkhand movement, knew every Jharkhand leader and was respected by all of them. He brought them together again and again.

Being a communist he had a great understanding of the working classes of the region. He developed later a similar understanding of the Chhatisgarh region when he worked with Comrade Neogi. But he began his work in Dhanbad district working with A. K. Roy of BCKU. He did election campaigns for A. K. Roy and later edited his journal, ‘Hirawal’ (Advanced Troop) for the working class. Everywhere he had a tough time because while money was forthcoming for TU work and for the lawyers, there was no money for the journal or for his upkeep. The TU workers could live off workers but it was difficult for an editor!

During emergency it was tough for all political workers and he moved to Bombay to help edit Blitz Hindi. He was fantastic in Hindi – he wrote the best simple Hindi for the working classes and later translations became a steady source for his maintenance. He wrote a brilliant booklet entitled ‘Mehnatkashon ko Kitaben Chhahiye' (The working class wants books).

In the early eighties, he edited Mitan for Comrade Neogi in Chhatisgarh. Everywhere he went he made good contacts with the activists of the region, be they workers, peasants or as it happened in Chhatisgarh, with doctors, engineers and lawyers also.

Very often Sitaram came across as a difficult person. I think the main reason was that he was impatient and unhappy with us for not being active enough, not understanding the need to align with other movements like the Jharkhand movement, with youth coming out of JP movement and lastly not understanding the need to support each other, not living in communes. However he was respected and loved by a very large number of people. Hundreds of comrades and friends received his (and Nalini's, his wife) hospitality, help and advice. He will be missed by a large number of people.

Here we must also touch upon Nalini's role in his life - she held him whole through all the noise and turmoil of his life, despite all their jhagras. She was also extremely generous under all kinds of stress that went inevitably with being married to Sitaram.

Many of us feel sad that he had to commit suicide. Those who saw his mutilated body near the river will carry a haunting image for a long time to come. Many of us ask – ‘Why it had to be like this?’

Given the situation that was probably the only valid option. His family in spite of his protests had persuaded him to go to Delhi for treatment. Weak and vulnerable as he was, he could not argue out his case for not going. But he was not prepared to face a situation where he was dependent on others, face hospitalisation and painful existence of throat cancer. So he took the courageous decision of walking out. It was characteristic of him and his decision fitted his personality. The sad thing is that he had to be alone in his last moments. It is a sad commentary on our progressive movement that it has not supported the movement for legalising euthanasia, that we are not prepared to face such a situation and we were not available to help him end his life in an honourable and dignified manner.

We convey our heartfelt condolences to Nalini (wife) and to Chinu (daughter).
October 27, 2012

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