Showing posts from February, 2018

An open letter to President Erdoğan from 38 Nobel laureates // Nobel Laureates Tell Myanmar’s Civil Leader: ‘Wake Up Or Face Prosecution’

Dear President Erdoğan, We wish to draw your attention to the damage being done to the Republic of  Turkey , to its reputation and the dignity and well-being of its citizens, through what leading authorities on freedom of expression deem to be the unlawful detention and wrongful conviction of writers and thinkers. In a  Memorandum on the Freedom of Expression in Turkey  (2017), Nils Muižnieks, then Council of Europe commissioner for Human Rights, warned: “The space for democratic debate in Turkey has shrunk alarmingly following increased judicial harassment of large strata of society, including journalists, members of parliament, academics and ordinary citizens, and government action which has reduced pluralism and led to self-censorship. This deterioration came about in a very difficult context, but neither the attempted coup, nor other terrorist threats faced by Turkey, can justify measures that infringe media freedom and disavow the rule of law to such an extent. Turke

Photos From The 2018 Sony World Photography Awards

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Book review: How the horse helped shape our world — at great expense to itself

FAREWELL TO THE HORSE A Cultural History By Ulrich Raulff Reviewed by  Melissa Holbrook Pierson Melissa Holbrook Pierson is the author of “Dark Horses and Black Beauties,” among other books. One animal was so decisive in shaping human history that the eminent historian Reinhart Koselleck proposed it as the sole organizing principle in a schema outlining the world’s three great epochs. These three ages, he believed, should be called pre-horse, horse and post-horse. The middle era lasted some 6,000 years. Transition to the post-horse period dates to the mid-20th century. In “Farewell to the Horse,” Ulrich Raulff has composed nothing less than a requiem Mass for this long-suffering, noble creature — a complex and lyrical argument that places the horse in a central role in the creation of the modern world. In his excavations of the 150-year period that makes up this long farewell, the author discovered something marvelous: “Horses had more meanings than bones.” Radical change t

The Critical Zone of Science and Politics: Steve Paulson interviews Bruno Latour

BRUNO LATOUR HAS NEVER been easy to pin down. He straddles disciplines, from sociology to philosophy, and for the last four decades has been a formidable intellectual presence around the world. Now, in what would seem to be his third - or is it fourth? - incarnation, Latour is marshaling his critical firepower to warn us about the environmental and political consequences of climate change. His new book,  Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime  (published in France in 2015 and just released in English translation), digs deeply into debates about nature, culture, and the Anthropocene.  Latour first made his name nearly 40 years ago by chastising scientists for their hubris and naïveté. He helped launch the discipline of science and technology studies (STS), arguing that the social dimensions of how scientists work can’t be separated from the truth claims they make. As a result, Latour was accused of undermining the credibility of science. His critics lumped him into the

Sharia law in operation: Indonesian couple flogged in public // Kate Lamb: Indonesia still fighting ghosts of communism

Two Indonesian Christians were publicly flogged in conservative Aceh province Tuesday for playing a children’s entertainment game seen as violating Islamic law. Hundreds of onlookers ridiculed and took pictures of the pair were who were among five people – including a couple whipped two dozen times each for showing affection in public – who were lashed with a rattan stick. Aceh is the only province in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country that imposes sharia law and people can be flogged for a range of offences – from gambling, to drinking alcohol to having gay sex or relations outside of marriage. Indonesia’s religious discrimination Forgotten Holocaust - Indonesia's massacre of communists in 1965 On Tuesday, Dahlan Silitonga, 61, and Tjia Nyuk Hwa, 45, were flogged six and seven times respectively after being arrested for playing a long-standing game at a children’s entertainment complex that lets users exchange coins for prizes or vouchers, including cash.

Zoe Williams: Brexit has created chaos in Britain – nobody voted for this // Aeron Davis: Is the British establishment finally finished?

The slash-and-burn gaiety of the coalition government has evolved into something more Kafkaesque: a system that doesn’t work for anybody, on any terms, which is more costly but also more painful, and in which all reasonable objection is met with the blank inaction of a frozen polity. The sense that a Conservative government might be callous is not an unfamiliar one: the contention that actual deaths have resulted from discernible policies is one that only slick-looking men on magazine-format current affairs programmes put any gusto into denying. Yet there is a creeping suspicion that the government has completely ground to a halt. Crises don’t erupt, because there is nobody to deal with them. New policies can’t be announced, because there is nobody to make them.  The regular business of the state, to maintain its institutions, react to challenge, find solutions, learn from mistakes and - at its very simplest - make sure its citizens survive, has been suspended.  Brexit  has been

ANNA NEMTSOVA - Is Russia Ruining the World’s Oldest and Deepest Lake?

For centuries, ancient  Baikal  has inspired art and religion among all ethnic groups living peacefully around Baikal—Shamanists and Buddhists here tie up colorful ribbons to trees in gratitude, with wishes whispered; Orthodox believers build churches on the lake’s banks. Some residents pray to the planet’s holy jewel, to preservation of their Siberian sea. The blue eye of Siberia - photos and film Others do not care whether the lake will stay clean for thousands of years, and have taken to dumping sewage into it. The road to Listvianka ended suddenly at a cliff, outside a red brick, multi-story hotel called Gold, of dubious reputation. Last February, locals watched a disgusting scene: yellow liquid was running right out onto Baikal’s ice from a hose that stretched from the hotel. This time, it was dirty laundry water. “Washing powder that contains phosphate is very dangerous for the lake’s species,” Marina Rikhvanova, a senior ecologist from Irkutsk told The Daily Beast. “The

Tom Phillips - 'Dictator for life': Xi Jinping's power grab condemned as step towards tyranny // China bans the letter N from the internet as Xi Jinping extends grip on power

The news broke at three minutes to four on a chilly winter’s afternoon in  a two-sentence bulletin . “The Communist party of China central committee proposed to remove the expression that the president and vice-president of the People’s Republic of  China ‘shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’ from the country’s constitution,” Xinhua, China’s official news wire, reported. “The proposal was made public Sunday.”  It was a typically dreary communique from the party-controlled propaganda agency. But to those who have spent their lives battling to   decrypt the enigma that is elite Chinese politics, the text’s historic significance was unmissable. “A bombshell,” said Susan Shirk, one of the United States’ foremost China specialists.  “I wasn’t anticipating such an open declaration of the new regime … I thought maybe he would stop short of this.” “He” is China’s 64-year-old leader, Xi Jinping, a man who, after  Sunday’s sensational and unexpected announcement , appears poi

Olga Ingurazova - How Social Conservatism Fueled Russia’s HIV Epidemic

In January 2016, Russia registered its  millionth HIV-positive person , a 26-year-old woman. Actual numbers are likely much higher, according to health experts. Across much of the world, including the United States, the rate of HIV is declining, thanks to strategic programs like clean needle exchanges, increased awareness and better access to anti-retroviral therapy.   In the U.S., for example, the annual number of overall HIV diagnoses decreased by 5 percent between 2011 and 2015,  according  to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  But that’s not the case in Russia: Here, the rate of HIV infections is rising faster than in sub-Saharan Africa, host to the world’s largest HIV epidemic, where an international effort has slashed the  rate  of new HIV infections.  Vadim Pokrovsky, head of Moscow’s Federal AIDS Center, has called Russia’s HIV epidemic a “national catastrophe,” using language rarely uttered by government officials, let alone the loathed, politically charged

Almost four environmental defenders a week killed in 2017

The slaughter of people defending their land or environment continued unabated in 2017, with new research showing almost four people a week were killed worldwide in struggles against mines, plantations, poachers and infrastructure projects. The toll of 197 in 2017 – which has risen fourfold since it was first compiled in 2002 – underscores the violence on the frontiers of a global economy driven by expansion and consumption. “The situation remains critical. Until communities are genuinely included in decisions around the use of their land and natural resources, those who speak out will continue to face harassment, imprisonment and the threat of murder,” said Ben Leather, senior campaigner for Global Witness. But there was a glimmer of hope that after four consecutive increases, the number of deaths has flattened off, amid growing global awareness of the crisis and a renewed push for multinational companies to take more responsibility and for governments to tackle impunity. 

GRAŻYNA BARANOWSKA - The right to truth denied

Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights to enforce the ‘right to truth’ in connection with the Franco regime and the Katyń massacre have been refused on procedural grounds. A long history of delayed justice has become a permanent case of justice denied, argues human rights lawyer Grażyna Baranowska. In recent decades, the jurisprudence of international human rights tribunals has aimed at crystallising the ‘ right to the truth ’. This concept was developed in the context of enforced disappearances in South American countries but has also been invoked in dealing with the past in Europe, for instance in the case of accounting for the crimes of the Franco regime. Similarly, attempts were made to apply this concept in the context of the Katyń massacre. History knows many cases of enforced disappearances, for example, the practices of  Nazi Germany  or the Soviet Union. However, this phenomenon was named only in the 1960s, when the regimes in South American countries carried it ou

Khaled Ahmed - The Unpious Pir The jousting and collusion of prayer and power in Pakistan

Pakistan says it is an ideological state but when heavily bearded, rotten-toothed, medieval-looking Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi comes out of his lair in Sial Sharif, Sargodha, Punjab, it looks like a mental asylum broken loose. That is what this 90-something-old man unleashed when he came out in January 2018 and said he and his disciples will bring down the government of Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) unless it immolates a couple of its leaders who offended the Holy Prophet PBUH by their statements. Then, on February 7, in a shameful anti-climax, it was revealed that the great Pir had been offered bribe to stage his pious campaign. All hell broke loose when a legislation proposed by the ruling PMLN omitted the world “solemnly” in the draft of an oath declaring the Holy Prophet to be the final prophet. Monotheisms have clashed among themselves when the older faith denies the prophethood of the new faith. When Christ appeared, the Jews cursed the Christians; when Muhammad PBUH appeared, t

Alok Prasanna Kumar - Three-judge Supreme Court flip-flop shows top court's credibility again under threat; CJI Misra must accept onus

CJI Dipak Misra's conduct as Chief Justice of India, whether his assertion of power as "Master of the Rolls" or fearfulness shown in the face of Government interference, has been far more damaging to the institution than any other threat the SC has faced in its history.  ​ It seems like a headline from  The Onion  - three-judge bench of the Supreme Court holds that three-judge bench judgment overruling of three-judge bench judgment stands overruled. But that is precisely what happened (in some ways) when the Supreme Court  passed its order  on 21 February in  State of Haryana versus GD Goenka Tourism Corporation Limited . How did this come to pass? It starts with one of the worst drafted pieces of legislation on the books - the  Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Relief and Rehabilitation Act, 2013 . It is a law replete with the most basic of drafting errors which not only fail to guarantee a modicum of rights to those whose lands

Jonathan Jones - So Neanderthals made abstract art? This astounding discovery humbles every human

The Neanderthal hand is the first evidence ever found of another species showing cultural self-consciousness. It’s not so very far from a hand print to a self-portrait to a diary to a novel. This discovery dethrones the modern human mind.  If you go to the painted caves of  Spain  and France, crawl through narrow passages and keep your balance on slippery rock floors, you reach the hidden places where ice age hunters made their marks tens of thousands of years ago. Nothing seems more startling than the way they placed hands against the cold rock and blew red ochre out of their mouths to leave fiery images. Of what though? Leaving a mark … a colour-enhanced hand stencil from La Pasiega in northern  Spain, now dated back 66,700 years. Photograph: Reuters Up to now we called it the human presence. “The print of the hand says, ‘This is my mark. This is man’,” declared the scientist Jacob Bronowski when he visited caves in northern Spain in his classic TV series  The Ascent of

Jonathan Freedland - The slaughter in Syria should outrage us. Yet still we just shrug

Almost anything is more interesting than the massacre of civilians in Syria. Just look at today’s front pages. The Guardian leads on the  slaughter of unarmed residents  in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, but for the rest it’s  a mix of continuing scandals  in international aid charities, the  tax record  of a newly appointed financial regulator, and Brendan off Strictly having an  unauthorised waltz  with Camilla. Against all that, the bloodbath in eastern Ghouta is deemed too dull to compete. Sure, the government of  Bashar al-Assad  may have pounded the rebel-held area so hard that it killed 194 people in 40 hours, many of them children. It may have targeted seven hospitals in two days, repeatedly hitting medical workers as they sought to rescue the injured and dying. And yes, this may signal the escalation of a siege that has denied supplies to a population of 390,000 for months, squeezing them between bombardment and starvation. All that may be meticulously documented

Danny Sjursen - Trump’s National Defense Strategy: Something for Everyone (in the Military-Industrial Complex)

Think of it as the chicken-or-the-egg question for the ages: Do very real threats to the United States inadvertently benefit the military-industrial complex or does the national security state, by its very nature, conjure up inflated threats to feed that defense machine?  Back in 2008, some of us placed our faith, naively enough, in the hands of mainstream Democrats -- specifically, those of a young senator named Barack Obama.  He would reverse the war policies of George W. Bush, deescalate the unbridled Global War on Terror, and right the ship of state. How’d that turn out?  In retrospect, though couched in a far more sophisticated and peaceable rhetoric than Bush’s, his moves would prove largely cosmetic when it came to this country’s forever wars: a significant reduction in the use of conventional ground troops, but more  drones , more  commandos , and yet more acts of ill-advised  regime change .  Don’t get me wrong: as a veteran of two of Washington’s  wars , I was glad when “no

Thomas L. Friedman: Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now

NB: This is both serious and ironical - given the number of times since 1945 that the USA has intervened to manipulate democratic processes in other countries, not least the interventions in Vietnam from the late 1950's onward; and the US backed bloody coup by Chilean General Pinochet in 1973. It seems now the boot is on the other foot. DS Our democracy is in serious danger. President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy. That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin - so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Ru

One million visits

Dear Readers A short while ago, this blog passed another milestone, with a million hits. We reached the half-million mark in 56 months from October 2011 to June 2016. The next half million took 20 months. Here is what I posted then:  A milestone for this blog - half a million hits   I'd say much the same now; thank you for your interest, and here's to keeping all our minds alert and critical. As you know, this is a non-commercial blog, and my only 'return' is the satisfaction of knowing that its readers find it of some value. Before anything else I will stress again the massive cover up of the suicide note left by an ex-Chief Minister of an Indian state (in 2016), that contains clues to the crisis of faith in the Indian judiciary. Read the note here ; and my comments on this matter here and here .  And here (along with some other material) is my advice for American schoolchildren, faced with gunfire in their classrooms and double-speak from their political lead