Showing posts from October, 2014

Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

The forces of democracy he unleashed toppled the Wall, and it is because of him this occurred without bloodshed If you seek Mikhail Gorbachev’s monument, do not look for it in today’s nationalist, authoritarian Russia. Rather, follow a ribbon of cobblestones running some 6km through the heart of Berlin. The stones mark the course of the Berlin Wall, symbol of the Cold War division of Europe. That ideological struggle has vanished. So too, has the Wall. Thanks, it must be said, more than to any other individual, to the last leader of the Soviet Union. Sooner or later, of course, the Wall would have disappeared. “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this Wall,” Ronald Reagan demanded in his speech in June 1987 in front of the sealed Brandenburg Gate. But no one listening that day could have dreamt that within two and a half years, precisely that would have happened. Only 24 hours before the crossing points were opened on 9 November 1989, Helmut Kohl, the West German Chancellor, was in Poland

Mukul Kesavan - The Prime Minister and Early Indian Science

In a recent speech at the inauguration of the Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai, Mr Narendra Modi encouraged doctors to take their cue from ancient Indian scientists who had, on the evidence of India's religious and mythological narratives, performed head transplants and produced babies outside the mother's womb. Thus Ganesh, that lovable God of all good beginnings, was the result of an elephant's head being grafted on to a human body by a pioneering plastic surgeon while Karna, Kunti's oldest son, was the product of advanced genetic engineering. Mr Modi is the Prime Minister of India and we should take his public utterances seriously. One reaction to his claims was to 'normalize' them by treating them as generic invocations of India's glorious Hindu past. This was a mistake because Mr Modi is not some eccentric antiquarian. Mr Dina Nath Batra's claim that India invented stem cell research can be discounted, but when the Prime Minister begins chann

Heroes of Trilokpuri: Eunuchs stop communal goons by threatening to strip

Although the prohibitory orders on gathering and movement of people imposed in east Delhi's Trilokpuri area following a communal clash were relaxed for three hours on Tuesday as no fresh violence was reported, it won't be easy for the residents to forget the fearful memory of the riots in the last one week. But, there will be few stories and heroic acts that they will not want to forget.  The story of a group of 15 eunuchs who stopped a gang to resort to violence is one such inspiring tale. According to a  Times of India  report , a group of eunuchs stood guard as a mob armed with swords charged towards Block 35 and stopped them by threatening to start taking off their clothes, forcing the mob to back off. Often, when a child is born, eunuchs reach the house and ask for money and threaten to take off their clothes if they are not gifted. But, this time, the threat was used for a noble cause.  The   ToI   report noted that the group are also giving brooms to both Hindus a

Why Iceland Should Be In The News, But Is Not

An Italian radio program’s story about Iceland ’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt.  The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion. As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here’s why: Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland , (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many Eng

Yes, Prime Minister

Hindu nationalists have long propagated their belief that many discoveries of modern science and technology were known to the people of ancient India. But now for the first time an Indian prime minister has endorsed these claims, maintaining that cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics were practiced thousands of years ago.  As proof, Narendra Modi gave the examples of the warrior Karna from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata and of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.  “We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time,” the prime minister told a gathering of doctors and other professionals at a hospital in Mumbai on Saturday. “We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.”  Modi went on: “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have

The South African HIV scientist who gave girls back control of their bodies

Last weekend Quarraisha Abdool Karim, one of South Africa’s top HIV researchers, became the first woman to receive a  US$100,000 (£62,000) prize for developing world scientists . The prize is a welcome recognition for the 54-year-old epidemiologist. Abdool Karim has devoted her career to developing tools that African women can use to protect themselves against HIV. She is involved in developing a battery of new methods, including anti-HIV gels and long-term injectables. One of the main challenges has been how to prevent HIV infection of young women, who in South Africa have  the greatest risk of contracting HIV . Most HIV prevention methods, such as condoms, faithfulness or abstinence, are difficult for women to control. In rural areas, where farming is falling out of fashion, women often don’t earn money, and sex frequently becomes a form of currency. In 1990 Abdool Karim led  South Africa’s first community-based survey of HIV  infection in the KwaZulu-Natal province on the cou

Graham Harman - Between Truth and Power: Bruno Latour’s Political Philosophy

‘In Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Political, I claim that Latour’s approach to political theory poses a strong challenge to reigning paradigms in the discipline. Politics since the French Revolution, whatever the complexities of any given historical moment, has habitually been carved up into “Left” and “Right” orientations. Indeed, this is how all of us instinctively classify each person we meet in political terms. As Emerson famously put it, every nation has its progressives (“The Party of Hope”) and its conservatives (“The Party of Memory”). Bruno Latour has always been difficult to place on this familiar spectrum. Clearly he is not a radical Leftist, having little in common with Jacobin countrymen such as Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière, who are prepared to sacrifice everything in the name of egalitarian principle. In fact, Latour is sometimes tarred by the Left as a “neo-liberal,” though this label is always too vague and too broadly applied to anyone who pulls up short of calli

Caste discrimination, child labour and the Nobel peace prize winner

Child labour and caste unfortunately continue to go hand in hand in India. In connection with the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to one of India’s chief campaigners against child labour, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, this issue has again been raised in global media and in expert statements. IDSN network members have been working for years on combatting caste-based child labour including the forms of caste-based child prostitution, Dalit children working in agriculture, manual scavenging and mining, garment, carpet weaving and construction industries. However, as long as ingrained discrimination and stigma continue to be the cause of extreme poverty and lack of opportunities for Dalit families, finding alternative  routes for Dalit children to engage in such as education is proving difficult to sustain. In the article ‘Poverty and caste fueling child labour in South Asia’, in connection with Mr. Satyarthi’s Nobel peace prize win, Harvard child labour expert, Siddharth Kara, comments that

World’s largest snake species has 'virgin birth'

A 20-foot python from a zoo in America has given birth without the help of a mate.  Thelma, an 11-year-old reticulated python - the longest species of snake in the world - laid 61 eggs in the summer of 2012. This is despite having had no contact with a male in her four years at Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, USA. After six months of extensive tests on the shed skins of the mother and her daughters, a study published in July this year in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society confirmed that Thelma was the sole parent, in the first recorded example of virgin birth in the species. Bill McMahan,  Curator of Ectotherms at Louisville Zoo , told  National Geographic : “We didn’t know what we were seeing. We had attributed it to stored sperm. I guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction." The research revealed that offspring were in fact the result of terminal fusion automixis, a process whereby cells known as polar bodies fuse with the egg to trigger cell division, effec

Adam Lee - Godless millennials could end the political power of the religious right

America is becoming less Christian. In every region of the country, in every Christian denomination, membership is either stagnant or declining. Meanwhile, the number of religiously unaffiliated people  – atheists, agnostics, those who are indifferent to religion, or those who follow no conventional faith – is growing The 2014 midterm elections are drawing near, and it appears that the Democrats may well lose the Senate, since they’re fighting on unfriendly territory – a large number of seats in red states are up for grabs. But if you look deeper than the national picture, there’s a more interesting story. In southern states like  Georgia  and  Kentucky  – which in the past would have been easy Republican holds - the races are unexpectedly tight. In fact, the only reason that the questions of which party will control the Senate in 2015 is unsettled at all is that  an unusual number of races in dark red states are toss-ups , despite an overall political climate that generally favor