Monday, 31 December 2018

Against the Illusion of Separateness: Pablo Neruda’s Beautiful and Humanistic Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. BY MARIA POPOVA

“There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance…”

By the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature less than two years before his death, Neruda had become an icon. Gabriel García Márquez, whose own subsequent Nobel Prize acceptance speech echoed Neruda’s humanistic ideals, considered him “the greatest poet of the twentieth century in any language.” On December 13, 1971, Neruda took the podium in Stockholm to deliver an extraordinary acceptance speech, later included in Nobel Lectures in Literature, 1968–1980 (public library). He begins with a lyrical, almost cinematic recollection of his 1948 escape to Argentina through a mountain pass when Chile’s dictatorial government issued an order for his arrest on account of his extreme leftist politics — a long, trying journey which embodied for the poet “the necessary components for the making of the poem.” He recounts:

Down there on those vast expanses in my native country, where I was taken by events which have already fallen into oblivion, one has to cross, and I was compelled to cross, the Andes to find the frontier of my country with Argentina. Great forests make these inaccessible areas like a tunnel through which our journey was secret and forbidden, with only the faintest signs to show us the way. 

There were no tracks and no paths, and I and my four companions, riding on horseback, pressed forward on our tortuous way, avoiding the obstacles set by huge trees, impassable rivers, immense cliffs and desolate expanses of snow, blindly seeking the quarter in which my own liberty lay. Those who were with me knew how to make their way forward between the dense leaves of the forest, but to feel safer they marked their route by slashing with their machetes here and there in the bark of the great trees, leaving tracks which they would follow back when they had left me alone with my destiny.

Each of us made his way forward filled with this limitless solitude, with the green and white silence of trees and huge trailing plants and layers of soil laid down over centuries, among half-fallen tree trunks which suddenly appeared as fresh obstacles to bar our progress. We were in a dazzling and secret world of nature which at the same time was a growing menace of cold, snow and persecution. Everything became one: the solitude, the danger, the silence, and the urgency of my mission.

Through this dangerous and harrowing journey, Neruda arrived at “an insight which the poet must learn through other people” — a profound understanding of the inter-connectedness of each life with every other, echoing his childhood revelation about the purpose of art. In consonance with the Lebanese-American poet and painter Kahlil Gibran’s insight into why we create, Neruda writes:

There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal:.. read more:

Niels Bohr on Subjective vs. Objective Reality and the Uses of Religion in a Secular World
Physics and Beyond, though out of print, is a fascinating read in its totality and well worth the search for a surviving copy. Complement this particular portion with pioneering nineteenth-century astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science, on our conquest of truth, Carl Sagan on science and spirituality, Richard Feynman on why uncertainty is essential for morality, Simone de Beauvoir on the moral courage of atheism, Alan Lightman on transcendent experiences in the secular world, and Sam Harris on spirituality without religion.

see also

‘Murder Them, We Will Handle’: Purvanchal University V-C’s Advice To Students. Sangh Parivar's notion of an ideal education?

The vice-chancellor of the Veer Bahadur Singh Purvanchal University in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh has landed in a controversy after a video purportedly showing him telling students to kill their opponent if they get into a fight went viral, prompting the state government to ask him to present his side of the story. In the video that has gone viral on the social media, Raja Ram Yadav, the VC, is purportedly seen telling students to kill their opponent if they get into a fight.

Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma, who also holds the higher education portfolio, told PTI, “I have asked the vice-chancellor to give his version of the story.” In the video clip, the VC is purportedly seen telling students: “Agar aap Purvanchal University ke chhatra ho to rote huye mere paas kabhi mat aana. Ek baat bata deta hoon, agar kisi se jhagda ho jaaye to uski pitai karke aana aur tumhara bas chale to uska murder karke aana, uske baad hum dekh lenge (If you are a Purvanchal University student, don’t come to me crying. If you get into a fight with someone, beat up that person. If possible, kill him. I will take care of things after that).”

Asked about his remarks, the VC said, “The lecture, which I had delivered at a college in Ghazipur, was presented out of context. I meant to say that students should shed disappointment and sadness and become brave and self-reliant.” Reacting to the incident, state minister and spokesperson of the Uttar Pradesh government Siddharth Nath Singh said, “It was wrong. He (Yadav) cannot make such comments. He should teach students about peace... A VC of such a mentality has no right to stay in his position. I hope the deputy CM will take appropriate action.”

National Conference (NC) vice-president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has also reacted to the incident. “Get in to a fight, commit a murder as a result and this university VC will take care of things. This is what passes for an education in some places these days. Not surprisingly the audience even applauds his assertion,” Abdullah said on Twitter on Sunday, besides posting the video clip of the purported incident on the microblogging website.

More threats and lies from the RSS
Here are some examples of vicious behaviour by the 'Sangh's front organisations:
A letter to Jaitley: Why do students get jailed but RSS leaders who issue vile threats walk freely?

Suzanne Moore - If we want a different politics, we need another revolutionary: Freud

If I want to read someone whose work truly explains what is happening now, and who is unsettling and properly radical, it is Sigmund Freud I turn to. It is his work that often explains things I would rather not know but recognise happening around me. I haven’t given up on Karl but Siggy strikes me as the man of the hour, the thinker who underpins how we see ourselves. You don’t read Freud for reassurance, but if you want something profound and dazzling, he’s the man.

To read Freud is to begin to see how the conception of what it is to be a modern person came about. Modernity, if it means anything, means a certain understanding of the process by which we make ourselves who we are: self-reflection. For Marx, reflection leads to inevitably antagonistic class relations. But the working class is a continual disappointment to the left for failing to recognise itself as a class, or to do as it is told. This, we are told, is the fault lately of the mainstream media, the BBC and centrist politicians, but it is in fact a global phenomenon. Freud actually understood that it is part of being human to crave authority.

He saw rationality as a veneer; underneath we are a mass of drives and contradictions. We are unknowable to ourselves, unbiddable even. Sure, Freud had his faults – a chancer trying to raise a growing family in turn-of-the-century Vienna, inventing a science that was based on conversations between men about the lives of women – but look at what he taught us. Narcissism. Repression. Nostalgia. How patriarchal laws are passed unconsciously.

Look at our current politics, now based on “taking back control”. Freud warned that nostalgia was a yearning for something that had never been, a melancholia. As a Jew, his account of childhood is like that of any outsider needing to assimilate. Feminism is also a movement about not being allowed, or being unwilling, to assimilate into a patriarchal society. Anyone who reads Freud’s famous case study Dora will see a young woman who would not play the game, who refused to be an object of exchange between powerful men, who found a voice. She is a precursor of the #MeToo movement.

It is Freud who gives voice to things we would rather not like to think about: infantile sexuality, perversion, fetishisation, and the violence of love... read more:

George Monbiot - Advertising and academia are controlling our thoughts. Didn’t you know?

I came across a paper that counsels advertisers on how to rebuild public trust when the celebrity they work with gets into trouble. Rather than dumping this lucrative asset, the researchers advised that the best means to enhance “the authentic persuasive appeal of a celebrity endorser” whose standing has slipped is to get them to display “a Duchenne smile”, otherwise known as “a genuine smile”. It precisely anatomised such smiles, showed how to spot them, and discussed the “construction” of sincerity and “genuineness”: a magnificent exercise in inauthentic authenticity...

NB: Monbiot says Our minds are shaped by our social environment, in particular the belief systems projected by those in power; but he goes on to say: The purpose of this brain-hacking research is to create more effective platforms for advertising. But the effort is wasted if we retain our ability to resist it. So then our minds need not be shaped by our social environment, and in fact, were that unequivocally true, Monbiot could not have written this article. It's a good point he makes, but he must get around the relativist assumptions that underpin it. DS

To what extent do we decide? We tell ourselves we choose our own life course, but is this ever true? 
If you or I had lived 500 years ago, our worldview, and the decisions we made as a result, would have been utterly different. Our minds are shaped by our social environment, in particular the belief systems projected by those in power: monarchs, aristocrats and theologians then; corporations, billionaires and the media today. Humans, the supremely social mammals, are ethical and intellectual sponges. We unconsciously absorb, for good or ill, the influences that surround us. Indeed, the very notion that we might form our own minds is a received idea that would have been quite alien to most people five centuries ago. This is not to suggest we have no capacity for independent thought. But to exercise it, we must - consciously and with great effort – swim against the social current that sweeps us along, mostly without our knowledge.

The purpose of this brain-hacking research is to create more effective platforms for advertising. But the effort is wasted if we retain our ability to resist it. Surely, though, even if we are broadly shaped by the social environment, we control the small decisions we make?

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Bhima Koregaon: Dalit Assertion Is Only Getting Stronger A Year After The Violence // Bhim Army Chief Detained Ahead Of Bhima Koregaon Anniversary

On January 1, 2018, Anjana Gaikwad, a 26-year-old Dalit activist from Pimpri Chinchvad town in Pune, was heading towards the Bhima Koregaon Vijay Stambh (victory column) on the outskirts of the city with her younger brother, Santosh Shinde. Gaikwad and Shinde had planned to join the thousands of Dalits from across Maharashtra who had gathered in Bhima Koregaon to pay tribute to the Dalit soldiers who, as a part of a British army, defeated a Peshwa army in 1818 despite being outnumbered. 2018’s commemoration was to mark the 200th anniversary of the victory.

Anand Teltumbde: The Myth of Bhima Koregaon Reinforces the Identities It Seeks to Transcend

But when the siblings’ bike reached Sanaswadi, a village near Bhima Koregaon, Gaikwad saw a violent mob furiously pelting stones at anyone wearing white clothes or carrying the blue flags associated with the Dalit movement. “They had hidden their faces with scarves, were carrying bottles and stones and came aggressively at us as we reached Sanaswadi. We left our bike and took shelter in a nearby house. Not a single shop was opened. The atmosphere was tense and that of a complete shutdown,” recalled Gaikwad, who runs a social group to help poor students in Pimpri Chinchwad. “After some time, the local resident who had given us shelter asked us to leave. When we came out, furious stone pelting was going on and vehicles were being torched by a mob carrying saffron flags. At that moment I thought we would not return home alive,” she said.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Fintan O’Toole: ‘Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity’

Fintan O’Toole is one of the most respected columnists and literary journalists working in the English language. He writes for the Irish Times and is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. His latest book, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, is an excoriating cultural analysis of the political ideas behind Brexit.

Andrew Anthony: You argue that English nationalism is the ghost in the Brexit machine. Why do you think that is?
From the turn of the century onwards, you have this extraordinary rise of the idea of England as a political community [ie, a popular desire for England-only legislation voted on by English-only politicians]. All the public opinion surveys show this. It’s very odd and I can’t think of any other parallels where it happens without a political party, without newspapers, without a national theatre. There’s no WB Yeats of English nationalism. So it’s not very well articulated. It’s a set of feelings rather than a political programme and Brexit offers itself as the way to address it. It says here’s the way to express yourself with an English identity. But it doesn’t answer it.

In your book, you criticise the way parallels have been made between Brexit and the 100 years war. What is the main problem?
A single word: vassalage. What on earth is this word doing in political discourse in the 21st century? I was struck by its re-emergence. It comes originally from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, this mad idea that somehow the 100 years war shows the English capacity to throw off feudal vassalage. It’s a ludicrous misunderstanding of history. The war was more like Charles Taylor in Sierre Leone – a hideous crime against humanity. To go back to that as the only thing you have to express what English freedom might mean in the 21st century shows how demented it is.

You also write about the long English tradition of clinging romantically to heroic defeat. What do you ascribe this to?
George Orwell wrote about this in the early 1940s. He said that it was extraordinary that if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters. It’s Scott of the Antarctic, it’s the Charge of the Light Brigade, it’s Gordon of Khartoum. That tradition of heroic failure was great when you were ruling the world as it was a way of saying we’re not really a nasty imperial power. But in a post-imperial age you get a farcical version. Because originally the thing that characterised heroic failure in the English imagination was not self-pity, but Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity.

You describe a false caricature of Germany, put about by Brexiters, of an expansionist nation. You also say that the EU, and especially Germany, had a need to severely punish debtor countries. Is Germany the glue that holds the EU together or a controlling villain?
There’s no doubt that Germany is the major power in Europe, and that’s one of the things going on with Brexit. It’s this idea that this country we defeated twice in the 20th century is now seen as the dominant power. That leads to fantasies that Britain really lost the war and we’re being taken over insidiously by the Germans. The real problem with the Germans isn’t that they’re trying to take over Europe. It’s that they’ve promulgated a very heavy austerity that is deeply ingrained in the German mentality. The irony is, it’s exactly the policy that the Tory Brexiters themselves were pursuing... 

Fisher and Tribal People Come Together in Massive Protest Rally in West Bengal

Fisher and Tribal People Come Together in
Massive Protest Rally
 DM's Office Blocked for Hours in West Midnapore

On 27th December 2018 in a first ever joint movement Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum and Adibasi Bikash Parishad alongwith many other organisations of the tribal people came together and staged a massive protest rally in Midnapore town against government's insensitivity and bureaucratic inaction regarding their long standing demands. For hours the DM's office was under siege with about 8,000 fishing community and tribal people blocking its entrance.

In West Midnapore, as in many other areas, the fishers and fish farmers either belong to tribal communities or live and work together. Thus common cause builds up among them to move for both fishing communities' and tribal people's rights and entitlements. The Judge Court ground of Medinipur Town was overflown with thousands of people hailing from places like Narayangar,  Keshiary, Kharagpur,  Pingla,  Sabang, Debra, Medinipur, Keshpur, Daspur, Chandrakona.  
The rally was led by Tarak Bag, District President Adibasi Bikash Parishad; Kartik Banda, State President Kol Ho Haram Sanagam Society; Biren Tubid, Secretary  Kol Ho Bhasha O Sahitya Parishad; Lakhsman Raut, Adibasi Baiga Samaj Unnayan Samity; Bablu Nayak, Lodha Unnayan Samity; Mangal Murmu,  leader Santhal ASECA; Sabitri Singh, Bhumij Kalyan Samity; Champa  Singh, Leader Adibasi Bikash Mancha; Jharna Acharyya, Convener DMF Women's Cell; Debasis Shyamal, Vice-president DMF and Pradip Chatterjee, Convener National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (Inland).  

The rally demanded immediate issuance of Government Identity Cards to the fishers and Government Tribal Community Certificates to the tribal people, the fishing communities' inalienable right over water and the tribal communities inalienable right over tribal land, immediate stoppage of pollution and encroachment on water bodies like rivers and wetlands as well as removal of all encroachments including upcoming industries like sponge iron factories and mines on tribal peoples' land. Demands were raised to recognise tribal 'Ho' language and include the same in the eighth schedule. 

The fishing communities further demanded replenishment of fish stock in rivers and wetlands by adding  fish fingerlings, fishers' credit card for fisher people, soft loan, cold box,  bicycles,  for fishing communities including fish vendors. They also demanded immediate renovation and modernisation of fish markets. The tribal people raised demands for enhancement of scope of tribal languages in education, free hostel facilities for students, housing for all under NGNB (Own Home - Own Land) scheme, inclusion of all tribal artists in Lok Prasar Scheme. Implementation of Forest Dwellers Rights Act was stressed again and again. 

Additional District Magistrate (ADM) of West Midnapore received the deputation and the memorandum of demands.The  administration was visibly rattled by the massive deputation. They promised to arrange for the Identity Cards for the fishing communities and the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Certificates  without further delay. They also assured to recommend eighth schedule inclusion for 'Ho' language. Implementation of the Forest Dwellers Rights Act was also assured. The administration promised to expedite the process of providing houses to the tribal and fisher people. Encroachments on tribal lands were assured to be seriously dealt with and reports were sought from concerned BDOs and SDOs in the matter. Immediate steps were to be taken to promote Santhali education facilities and hostel facilities for tribal students. Government in the fisheries department would take special care to replenish fish stock in the water bodies and give fishing rights to the local and indigenous fisher people.  

The people agitating outside the DM's office listened to the report of the Deputation Team. A decision was taken to review the deputation and keep close watch on the post deputation performance of the administration in keeping their promises. They lifted the siege with the warning that unless the demands are met and assurances fulfilled they will not only return in larger numbers, but also will confront the administration in every village and block of the district.

Friday, 28 December 2018

The ruling class and illegal mining in Meghalaya

Abhishek Saha - Beyond the tragedy, for state’s politicians, mining their own business
TWO weeks after 15 workers in Meghalaya were trapped while mining coal using the “rat-hole technique,” and are feared dead now, Lok Sabha MP from Shillong constituency Vincent H Pala (50) told the House Thursday this should be “regularised”. This method - with narrow tunnels dug in mountains for workers to move through and extract coal - was slammed as illegal, unscientific and harmful, and banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on April 17, 2014.

Pala made this demand but what he did not spell out was that he was also a prominent coal businessman in the state. The Congress MP, a native of East Jaintia Hills district and an engineer by qualification, has been vocal about lifting the NGT ban on illegal coal mining in the state. In fact, Pala isn’t the only one. About a dozen politicians allegedly own coal mines themselves or have relatives as mine owners and were named by a Citizens’ Report prepared by civil society groups in Meghalaya and submitted to the Supreme Court earlier this month.

The report, submitted through the amicus curiae in the case, Colin Gonsalves, lists Pala, four ministers in the Conrad Sangma-led government and seven MLAs alleging these men or their relatives are coal-mine owners. “This is just a sample from the political class — an independent audit of coal mines will reveal that many bureaucrats, technocrats, police people are involved in mining business,” the report said. Alleging collusion between politicians, the state machinery and mine owners, the report cited this as a primary reason for illegal mining in the state despite the ban.

“NGT ruling has been flouted as there is a serious conflict of interest with many ministers, MLAs, MDCs, Administrators who are involved in coal mining. For eg. in the current govt as well as previous govt and currently in the opposition, (there are) MLAs and ministers (who) are coal miners, weigh-bridge owners and operators and /or transporters.”.. read more:

Robert Fisk: Trump vs Mattis: Watch out when men of war come to the rescue // Danny Sjursen: Trump’s 3 Generals may be Out, but the Forever War Lobby Still Rules

When a general popularly known as James “Mad Dog” Mattis abandons a really mad American president, you know something has fallen off the edge in Washington. Since the Roman empire, formerly loyal military chiefs have fled crackpot leaders, and Mattis’s retreat from the White House might have the smell of de Gaulle and Petain about it.  De Gaulle was confronted by an immensely powerful hero of the people - the Lion of Verdun - who was, in his dotage, about to shrug off the sacred alliance with Britain for Nazi collaboration (for which, I suppose, read Putin’s Russia). The decision was made to have nothing to do with Petain, or what Mattis now refers to as “malign actors”. De Gaulle would lead Free France instead. Mattis has no such ambitions – not yet, at any rate – although there are plenty of Lavals and Weygands waiting to see if Trump chooses one of them for his next secretary of defence. Besides, history should not grant Trump and Mattis such an epic panorama.

After all, no Trump tweet could compare with Petain’s 1916 “We’ll get them!” (“on les aura”) slogan, and the dignified, cold and fastidious de Gaulle would never have lent himself to the rant Mattis embarked upon in San Diego in 2005: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”

Juan Cole : Syrian Kurds frantically turn to Moscow for Protection from Turkey

Anton Lavrov, a military analyst, writes in the pro-Putin Russian newspaper Izvestia (via BBC Monitoring), writes that the withdrawal of US troops from northeast Syria will mainly affect the fate of the Kurds. He notes that the US has provided the YPG with armored vehicles and antitank missiles and a great deal of ammunition. These medium armaments, he says, were useful in defeating the ISIL ‘caliphate,’ but won’t be enough to fend off the Turkish army or the Syrian Arab Army once the US is out.

He argues that for the past year, the fight against the largely defeated ISIL has become a sideshow to the main event, which was US and coalition protection for their Kurdish YPG allies from the Turkish army on the one hand and the Syrian Arab Army on the other. Both have mounted exploratory expeditions toward YPG Kurdish territory in the past twelve months, but have been dissuaded by the US. In the case of Turkey, the US and France positioned troops in the way of a Turkish offensive. In the case of the Syrian Army, the US at Tanf in the southeast used air power to block a Syrian advance.

In his view, the primary effect of a US withdrawal will not be to allow a resurgence of ISIL, which he thinks is now a mere terrorist group that will require some years finally to roll up. Rather, the US withdrawal sets up a potential clash between the al-Assad regime and the Kurds on the one hand, and between the Kurds and Turkey on the other... read more:

Thursday, 27 December 2018

15 Meghalaya Miners Still Trapped

Two weeks have passed and 15 Meghalaya miners are still trapped in a coal mine in East Jaintia Hills district. As the rescue operations continue, NDRF divers reported a “foul smell” on Wednesday. It has raised concerns that the miners could be dead and the bodies are beginning to decompose, according to The Indian Express

However, according to another NDTV report, the officials at the site said they are not certain whether the foul smell is of decomposed bodies as it could be from stagnant water also.  The 15 miners have been trapped since 13 December, after the mine collapsed.  The NDTV report also said that rescue operations were halted on Tuesday. Chief Minister Conrad Sagma admitted on Wednesday that the rescue efforts had been stopped and that the state was waiting for high-powered pumps to draw out water from the mine.   

Two low-capacity pumps used to draw water could not extract enough water for safe rescue operations, according to NDTV, as water from a nearby river and another abandoned mine kept flooding the rat-hole mine. The small pumps had to be shut down as they were ineffective, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was quoted as saying in the report. Pune-based Kirloskar Brothers Limited, a firm that had helped rescue the 12 boys of a Thailand football team in July, 2018, has offered to help in rescue operations... read more:

Yong Xiong and Ben Westcott - Marxist student snatched on way to Mao Zedong celebration in China

NB: What irony! It's now a crime to support worker's rights in the Peoples Republic, under the rule of a Communist Party. Even more ironic is that this student is probably ignorant of Mao's contribution to this state of affairs, and the number of Chinese workers and peasants whose deaths were caused by the famine that accompanied the Great Leap Forward; not to mention the GPCR. DS

A high-profile Marxist student activist was bundled into a car by suspected plainclothes policemen on Wednesday on his way to celebrations for the birthday of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Qiu Zhanxuan, head of the Marxist Society at China's distinguished Peking University, is the latest in a series of socialist student leaders to vanish in recent months following their attempts to support Chinese workers in labor disputes.

It has raised fresh questions about the Communist Party's Marxist credentials at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping is working hard to paint his government as an ardent supporter of ordinary workers and citizens. Qiu was on his way to attend a memorial on the 125th anniversary of Mao's birthday early Wednesday when up to eight people in plain clothes grabbed his arms and legs and bundled him into a car, according to a fellow student who witnessed the incident.

The student, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of official reprisal, said he heard Qiu yelling, "I didn't break the law, why do you want to take me away? What are you doing?" According to the witness, the men who took Qiu away identified themselves as officers from the Ministry of Public Security. CNN has reached out to the Ministry of Public Security for comment.

"What's wrong with remembering Chairman Mao? Which law does it break? How can they kidnap a Peking University student in public?" the student told CNN. Before his disappearance, Qiu had been vocal in his support of Chinese workers and had called for people to celebrate the anniversary of Mao's birth... read more:

see also

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Jesus was an anti-slut-shaming Middle Eastern Jew


see also
Three Versions of Judas: Jorge Luis Borges
The Quarrels of Others: On Anti-Semitism

Teacher praises school child for thoughtful christmas gift despite having ‘nothing to give’

A thoughtful gift doesn’t always require money, as one teacher in Washington State realised when one of her young students gave her a small bag of marshmallows picked out from her breakfast cereal before departing for the holidays. Writing about the present on Facebook, Rachel Uretsky-Pratt explained how every student at her school is on free or reduced lunches and that one “kiddo” was desperate to give her a present but had “nothing to give”.

“So rather than give me nothing, this student opened up her free breakfast cereal this morning, took the packaging of her spork, straw, and napkin, and finally took the time to take every marshmallow out of her cereal to put in a bag – for me,” she said. “Be grateful for what you have, and what others give you. It all truly comes from the deepest parts of their hearts.”

The Christmas truce, 1914 - Steven Johns : When love became treason.. A short history of the widespread but unofficial truce between British and German troops on the Western front over Christmas, 1914 during World War I

Uretsky-Pratt’s post has clearly touched the hearts of many, garnering more than 362,000 likes and 122,000 shares. Thousands of people responded in the comments, describing her story as “beautiful” and “deeply moving”.  “That says a lot about you as a very special and loved teacher and it says a lot about this sweet and precious child,” wrote one person, while another labelled it the “sweetest gesture”. Fellow teachers shared similar stories of simple but touching gifts they’d been bought by children.

“I once had a student bring in a bag of pretzel sticks for his birthday,” wrote one person. “It was obviously all he could afford. We sang to him, he picked a special helper, and he passed out his treat proud as could be. The students treated it like they were getting the best cupcakes ever. It was so beautiful.” Another added, “my favourite gift one year was a boy who said he could only give me a hug for Christmas, but gave me his best big bear hug. I wrote a thank you note for the gift.”

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Book review: Nein! The Germans who stood up to Hitler

Nein! by Paddy Ashdown: Reviewed by Rodric Braithwaite
Riveting new detail is added to the story of the men and women who lost their lives trying to stop the Führer, in the final book by Ashdown, who died on Saturday

As Stauffenberg put it: “the man who has the courage to do something must do it in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor. If he does not do it, however, he will be a traitor to his own conscience.” 

In the old German defence ministry in the Bendlerstrasse, Berlin, a whole floor has been restored to the way it was at the time of the 20 July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler. It was there that Claus von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators managed their doomed enterprise: he and three others were shot in the courtyard below at the end of that dramatic day. Another floor is devoted to the trade unions, political parties and churches who did what they could to stop the man who was bringing shame and disaster to their country. It is a moving place.

The resisters were not only military men, Prussian aristocrats and veteran civilian politicians such as the former mayor of Leipzig, Carl Goerdeler. A younger group around Helmuth von Moltke’s Kreisau Circle planned to fashion a Germany that was democratic, antiracist, and internationalist: Paddy Ashdown, in his new book on the German resistance, calls them “the flower of the Germany of their day”. There was much bravery from “ordinary” people: Georg Elser, a carpenter, nearly succeeded in blowing Hitler to pieces. Others protested peacefully, such as the devoutly Christian students Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans from Munich; or Otto and Elise Hempel, the couple at the heart of the bestselling novel by Hans Fallada (and subsequent film with Emma ThompsonAlone in Berlin. They and many others were killed horribly by Hitler’s butchers.

And yet the idea still persists that those who opposed him were pathetically few in number, and that most were rabid nationalists with whom we could never have done business. That is inaccurate and unjust. Ashdown’s book is suffused with a moral sense, a fellow-feeling for the courageous men and women who made gut-wrenching moral choices in the most appalling circumstances.

Justin McCurry: Japan's emperor calls for young to be taught about horrors of war

Japan’s emperor has marked his last birthday before his abdication next year by calling for his country’s younger generations to be taught accurately about the horrors of war and expressing relief that his reign has been a peaceful one for Japan. A record 82,850 people cheered and waved Japanese hinomaru flags as Emperor Akihito, who turned 85 on Sunday, appeared on the balcony of the imperial palace in Tokyo with Empress Michiko, his eldest son and heir Crown Prince Naruhito and other members of his family.

Naruhito, 58, will ascend to the Chrysanthemum throne on 1 May, the day after his father, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, becomes the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in 200 years. The last was Emperor Kōkaku in 1817. Akihito returned to the legacy of the second world war in his pre-recorded speech, a subject that has helped define his 30-year reign, known as heisei, or achieving peace. “It is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in the second world war and that the peace and prosperity of postwar Japan was built upon the numerous sacrifices and tireless efforts made by the Japanese people, and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war,” he said. Referring to the “end of my journey as emperor”, Akihito, whose voice appeared to tremble with emotion, added: “It gives me deep comfort that the heisei era is coming to an end, free of war in Japan.”

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Tavleen Singh - Anti-national nationalism

India’s Muslim population is too large to ‘go to Pakistan’ or anywhere else without breaking India yet again. Does this not make Yogi Adityanath anti-national?  ... it really is time to list political leaders who make up the other ‘tukde, tukde gang’. It is time to remind these ‘nationalists’ that what they think is nationalism is in reality a dangerous anti-nationalism that is causing grievous harm to the country they claim to love. Meanwhile, since they have all found their voices only since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, he would do well to examine why this has happened and if he has in some way played a role...

In Mumbai last week, I attended Republic TV’s summit that glittered with BJP stars. The Prime Minister gave the keynote address on the first day. The BJP president was the first speaker the next day. I did not personally attend every session but watched those I missed on television and so happened upon a discussion on nationalism between Smriti Irani and Kamal Haasan moderated by Arnab Goswami. Ms Irani was at her feisty best indicating clearly that she thought, because of the political party she represents, she had no need to prove that she was a nationalist and that poor old Mr Haasan did because he talked of the importance of India’s diversity. 

When she wore her robes of nationalism a little too smugly, Arnab asked what she had to say about the killing of cows being given more importance than the murder of a police officer in Bulandshahr recently. She evaded answering the question. Everyone in the BJP has. Except the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who has made it clear that cows are more important so their possible slaughter took priority. Does this make him a nationalist or anti-national?

It is the question that we need to start asking because there is definitely more than one group that seems bent on breaking India up once more, and right now Hindutva nationalists are ahead in the race. Yogi Adityanath is the leader of this gang of ‘nationalist’ anti-nationals. He has created in his state an atmosphere in which Muslim businesses, beliefs and ordinary Muslims are permanently in his crosshairs. Cows have become the weapon that he uses most effectively to make Muslims live in a constant state of terror.

This column has pointed out often before that India’s Muslim population is too large to ‘go to Pakistan’ or anywhere else without breaking India yet again. Does this not make Yogi Adityanath anti-national? When Muslims are arrested for allegedly killing cows, instead of the leaders of the violent mob that killed a police officer, does it not make him anti-national?

Joe Moran: the story behind our planet's most famous photo, December 24, 1968

When Bill Anders took this photograph from the Apollo spacecraft on Christmas Eve in 1968, our relationship with the world changed forever .This photograph is now half a century old. It was taken by the astronaut Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968 as the Apollo 8 spacecraft rounded the dark side of the moon for a fourth time. When Earth came up over the horizon, Anders scrabbled for his Hasselblad camera and started clicking. In that pre-digital age, five days passed. The astronauts returned to Earth; the film was retrieved and developed. In its new year edition, Life magazine printed the photo on a double-page spread alongside a poem by US poet laureate James Dickey:

And behold / The blue planet steeped in its dream 
Of reality, its calculated vision shaking with the only love.”
The Earth from Apollo 8 as it rounded the dark side of the moon. 
Photograph: Nasa/AFP/Getty Images

This was not quite the first look at our world from space. Lunar probes had sent back crudely scanned images of a crescent Earth shrouded in cloud. A satellite had even taken a colour photo that, in the autumn of 1968, the radical entrepreneur Stewart Brand put on the cover of his first Whole Earth Catalog. The next edition, in spring 1969, used Anders’s photograph, by now known as Earthrise.

Brand’s catalogue was a DIY manual for the Californian counterculture, a crowd-sourced compendium of life hacks about backpacking, home weaving, tantra art and goat husbandry. Its one-world, eco ethos was a weird offshoot of the macho tech of the space age – those hunks of aluminium run on rocket fuel and cold war rivalries. But then looking back at Earth was itself a weird offshoot of the moon missions. It just happened that Apollo 8’s aim – to locate the best lunar landing sites – needed high-res photography, which was also good for taking pictures of planets a quarter of a million miles away.

Brand was one of a group of environmental activists who felt that an image of “Spaceship Earth” would bring us all together in watchfulness and care for our planetary craft and its precious payload. “Earthrise”, though, did more than just corroborate this gathering mood. With its incontestable beauty, a beauty that had needed no eye of a beholder for billions of years, it caught the human heart by surprise… read more:

Mohd Asim - The Lynch Mob Now Goes for Naseeruddin Shah - Predictably

NB: The entire Sangh Parivar is responsible for this hateful and dismal state of affairs. Those who can threaten the courts and judges are not likely to be deterred by a mere actor in their relentless campaign to stoke up communal hatred at every available opportunity. All Indian citizens who care about the future of the Republic should defend Naseeruddin. And Bollywood celebrities may kindly take time off from their unending wedding receptions and speak up for him. DS

Naseeruddin Shah is neither the first, nor will he be the last to be hauled over the coals for speaking out against the climate of hate and bigotry that has been unleashed in the country. "Good" Indians are outraged that an actor with a Muslim name has dared to hold up the mirror. How dare he? Instead of being grateful for the standing conferred on him, he is questioning what he sees around him. That's the common response to Naseer's genuine outburst over the sad state of affairs in our country today.

The controversy began on December 17 when Naseeruddin said in an interview that the killing of cows is treated as more important than the lynching of a policeman. But the award-winning actor is hardly imagining the monstrosity of the mob that has been unleashed. "The djinn is out of the bottle and it will not be easy to put it back in it," the veteran actor lamented.

As Pakistan wades into row, Naseeruddin Shah says take care of own country

Leaders of the ruling establishment have uncorked this djinn of hate and lawlessness.

Trump's chaos: This Time Is Worse Than Usual. By BEN MATHIS-LILLEY

...... Secretary of Defense James Mattis is, indeed, resigning in protest over Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw forces from Syria. It’s a decision that, according to the latest reporting, was more or less dictated by the authoritarian leader of Turkey - who wants America out so that he can slaughter the Kurds, longtime allies of the U.S. who we are surprising/betraying by leaving so suddenly.

As the national security writer Marcy Wheeler points out, among the reasons that Trump has to be deferential toward Turkey are 1) Turkey might have dirt about former national security adviser Michael Flynn advocating corruptly for pro-Turkey policies while he was on Turkey’s payroll, 2) Trump needs Turkey to stop making noise about how the Trump administration allowed Saudi Arabia to kidnap, torture, and and murder Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul without any repercussions, and 3) Turkey’s interests in Syria overlap with those of Russia, another country that may possess incriminating material about corrupt behavior by Trump and Flynn that has been in the news recently because of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. The president is possibly being blackmailed! Very neat... read more:

Friday, 21 December 2018

Indian justice: Sohrabuddin encounter case verdict: It looks like my brother killed himself, says his brother

Rubabuddin Shaikh, the younger brother of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, the only family member present in the special CBI court on Friday, said that with nobody held responsible for his brother’s death, he will have to conclude that Sohrabuddin had killed himself. Rubabuddin, on whose petition the Supreme Court had in 2006 directed a probe into whether Sohrabuddin’s encounter was genuine, said that he had lost hope of the accused being held guilty when the Bombay High Court had discharged six policemen.

In September, the high court had dismissed Rubabuddin’s pleas against the trial court’s order discharging IPS officers, including D G Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian and Dinesh M N. “There was enough evidence against the accused, but it seems that the court has turned a blind eye towards it. This judgment is just not right. It is not in the interest of justice,” he told The Indian Express.

He added, “The court has not accepted any evidence. It looks like my brother Sohrabuddin killed himself. When the HC discharged six policemen in September, I lost hope. It was very clear that the accused before the trial court will also be acquitted.”

Shaun Walker - 'We won't keep quiet again': the women taking on Viktor Orbán

A new wave of female politicians and protesters are offering an alternative to the Hungary PM’s macho politics When the speakers took the stage to address the crowds of protesters in front of Budapest’s imposing parliament building on Sunday, they had two things in common. They were all staunch opponents of Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s far-right prime minister. And they were all women. In a country where Orbán’s populist politics have a distinctly macho flavour, and debates about women often come in the context of child-bearing and family life, the political opposition is being voiced in a united and distinctly female front.

“We wanted to send a message that female parliamentarians, and women in Hungary, should be heard,” said Ágnes Vadai, an MP from the Democratic Coalition, who said it was a conscious decision from opposition parties to send female MPs to speak to the crowd. Hungary’s protests were sparked by a so-called “slave law”, passed by the Hungarian parliament last week, which allows employers to demand more overtime from their workers and delay payments for up to three years. A showdown in parliament, in which female MPs blocked the speaker podium and blew whistles in protest at the law, was followed by a series of street demonstrations.

Biological Annihilation: A Planet in Loss Mode. By Subhankar Banerjee

It’s now estimated that 40% of all bird species are in decline globally and one of every eight is threatened with extinction... If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening to the nonhuman life forms with which we share this planet, you’ve likely heard the term 'the Sixth Extinction.' If not, look it up.  After all, a superb environmental reporter, Elizabeth Kolbert, has already gotten a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book with that title.

Whether the sixth mass species extinction of Earth’s history is already (or not quite yet) underway may still be debatable, but it’s clear enough that something’s going on, something that may prove even more devastating than a mass of species extinctions: the full-scale winnowing of vast populations of the planet’s invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.  Think of it, to introduce an even broader term, as a wave of “biological annihilation” that includes possible species extinctions on a mass scale, but also massive species die-offs and various kinds of massacres.

Someday, such a planetary winnowing may prove to be the most tragic of all the grim stories of human history now playing out on this planet, even if to date it’s gotten far less attention than the dangers of climate change.  In the end, it may prove more difficult to mitigate than global warming.  Decarbonizing the global economy, however hard, won’t be harder or more improbable than the kind of wholesale restructuring of modern life and institutions that would prevent species annihilation from continuing.   With that in mind, come along with me on a topsy-turvy journey through the animal and plant kingdoms to learn a bit more about the most consequential global challenge of our time... read more:

Nomi Prins: A World That Is the Property of the 1%

Oxfam reported in January of this year that the wealth of eight men was equal to that of half the people on this planet in 2017. And an Oxfam report a year earlier had 62 billionaires owning half the planet’s wealth. Imagine that: 62 to eight in a single year...As we head into 2019, leaving the chaos of this year behind, a major question remains unanswered when it comes to the state of Main Street, not just here but across the planet. If the global economy really is booming, as many politicians claim, why are leaders and their parties around the world continuing to get booted out of office in such a sweeping fashion?

One obvious answer: the post-Great Recession economic “recovery” was largely reserved for the few who could participate in the rising financial markets of those years, not the majority who continued to work longer hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, to stay afloat. In other words, the good times have left out so many people, like those struggling to keep even a few hundred dollars in their bank accounts to cover an emergency or the 80% of American workers who live paycheck to paycheck.

In today's global economy, financial security is increasingly the property of the 1%. No surprise, then, that, as a sense of economic instability continued to grow over the past decade, angst turned to anger, a transition that - from the U.S. to the Philippines, Hungary to Brazil, Poland to Mexico - has provoked a plethora of voter upheavals. In the process, a 1930s-style brew of rising nationalism and blaming the “other” - whether that other was an immigrant, a religious group, a country, or the rest of the world - emerged… read more:

See also:
Posts on Piketty's work on inequality 

John Steinbeck: A flawed genius. By Martin Chilton

It’s the 50th anniversary of the death of Steinbeck, the subject of a new biography in 2019. The Nobel Prize-winning author of The Grapes of Wrath was a complicated and controversial man. 
He died on December 20, 1968

“I know of no sadder people than those who believe their own publicity”
... After a series of well-received novels, including 1935’s Tortilla Flat, Steinbeck won critical acclaim in 1937 for his novella Of Mice and Men, the moving portrait-in-miniature of 1930s California, seen through the friendship of oddball ranch workers George and Lennie. Two years later came The Grapes of Wrath, one of the defining novels of the 20th century, a work of rich descriptive power, in which Steinbeck showed his ability to summon poetry out of poverty in the lives of the “Okie” Joad family. This deeply affecting story about the oppression of migrant workers, who were fleeing from the Dust Bowl states to California, struck a chord with an America reeling from the Great Depression. 

By February 1940, the novel was in its 11th printing, having sold nearly half a million copies. More than 15 million copies were bought in the next eight decades and around 50,000 copies are still bought in America every year. The impact of Steinbeck’s work on the American people was momentous. When I met the singer and actor Harry Belafonte, he told me Steinbeck “was one of the people who turned my life around as a young man”, inspiring “a lifelong love of literature”. Arthur Miller wrote of Steinbeck, “I can’t think of another American writer, with the possible exception of Mark Twain, who so deeply penetrated the political life of the country.”

Facebook 'log out' boycott underway after alleged Black voter suppression // Is 2019 the year you should finally quit Facebook? Arwa Mahdawi

'The utilisation of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community is reprehensible,' says NAACP president
A civil rights organisation in the US has called for a boycott of Facebook after a report found a Russian influence campaign on the platform was working to suppress African-American voter turnout. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) is leading the #LogOut protest on Tuesday, 18 December, while also calling on Congress to further investigate the social network. A report for the US Senate Intelligence Committee into Russia's online meddling in the build up to the 2016 Presidential election determined black voters were specifically targeted by Russian operatives on social media. Researchers at Oxford University and network analysis firm Graphika found Russians "sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage" black people from voting, as well as other voting blocks that could challenge Donald Trump.

Daniel Boffey - Dutch round-the-clock church service keeps hopes alive for asylum family

Tamrazyan family, facing return to Armenia, hide out in church protected by medieval law
The pastors and volunteers at Bethel church, a small Protestant chapel tucked away on a quiet street in a residential district of The Hague, are preparing for what looks likely to be an unusually busy and anxious Christmas. They worry that they will need to turn away some of the faithful at the door, and there are even putative plans to live-stream the services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, such is the expected level of interest.

The main concern, though, is to keep a flicker of hope alive among the Tamrazyan family – Sasun, his wife Anousche and their children Hayarpi, 21, Warduhi, 19, and Seyran, 15 – who have been holed up in the church for nearly two months, protected by a medieval law that says immigration authorities cannot enter while a religious service is ongoing.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Anjali Bhardwaj & Amrita Johri - The Modi Govt Is Trying To Destroy The RTI Act // Big Brother Logs On? 10 Central Agencies Can Now Snoop On Any Computer

Secrecy in amending the RTI Act as well as in the appointment of Information Commissioners in the CIC reveal the government's intention to destroy the spirit of the transparency law.
With over 6 million information applications filed every year, the Indian Right to Information (RTI) Act is the most extensively used transparency legislation globally. The law has empowered ordinary citizens to hold the government accountable. It has been used for a range of issues: from exposing lapses in the delivery of essential services and violation of basic rights, to questioning the highest authorities of the country on their performance, their decisions, and even their conduct.

A critical provision of the RTI Act, which gives it teeth, is the setting up of independent information commissions, in states and at the centre, to receive appeals and complaints about violations of the Act. The commissions are the final adjudicators under the law and are empowered to direct governments to disclose information and impose penalties on erring officials. Thus, the information commissions are seen as playing a critical role in guaranteeing peoples’ right to information.

Books reviewed: Solzhenitsyn as he saw himself

Stephen Kotkin reviews five books by and about the life, exile and writing of the Russian author
One hundred years ago this month, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk (“acidic waters”), a curative town in the North Caucasian foothills of Russia, which was then wracked by civil war. Earlier that year, 300 miles north at Novocherkassk, the capital of the Don Cossacks, former tsarist officers had proclaimed the formation of a Volunteer Army to reverse the Bolshevik coup of 1917. 

The force, labelled Whites, would go down in defeat, its survivors compelled to disperse into emigration. But Solzhenitsyn – even though he, too, would be forced from his homeland – subsequently won the White movement’s fight with his pen. His novels One Day in the Life of Ivan DenisovichIn the First Circle and Cancer Ward, as well as his nonpareil three-volume literary investigation The Gulag Archipelago, persuasively blackened the Soviet regime at its roots.
According to an estimate by Publishers Weekly, by 1976 Solzhenitsyn had sold 30 million copies of his books in some thirty languages, with sales of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago 
accounting for up to a third of that total. Long after Soviet communism came crashing down in 1991, his evocative works based on a multitude of first-hand experiences of the forced labour camp system retain their potency and urgency. If, as the scholar John B. Dunlop has written, “it is as an artist that Solzhenitsyn will be remembered or forgotten”, then he is destined to endure.

Costica Bradatan: The Gifts of Humility

Iris Murdoch defined humility, memorably, as “selfless respect for reality” 
WHAT IF KNOWLEDGE - the real, redeeming variety - is not power, but the opposite of it? If, for instance, to become properly human we need to run away from power as much as we can? Indeed, what if our highest accomplishment in this world came from radical self-effacement, the lowest existential station we could possibly reach?

If there is one trait that all forms of life share, it must be self-assertion. From the simplest to the most complex, all living entities seek to persist in their state and reproduce. And doing so requires pushing relentlessly against other entities, often to the point of annihilating them. That makes life a scene of cruelty of cosmic proportions. But “cruel” may be the wrong word, for it applies human judgment to something that, by definition, is anything but human. The process of life unfolds beyond any human concerns — spontaneously, blindly, tyrannically. Humans are caught up in it just like any other species. Far from having a say in the process, we are used and abused by it — brought into being, instrumentalized, and discarded. We think we fall in love, but that’s just one of the tricks life uses to reproduce itself; we devise some better tool and think ourselves smart, blissfully ignorant that we are just playing life’s game of self-assertion. We live in a comic farce and call it happiness.