Friday, 30 March 2018

Sreemoy Talukdar - CBSE paper leak: Incompetent board and a bumbling minister

Mathematics (Class X) and economics (Class XII) are crucial papers that shape a million futures. Students are reportedly apprehensive that the revised papers might be tougher than the ones they have cleared. This possibility cannot be dismissed, as the fear that a tougher paper might adversely affect the students' prospects. 

The CBSE failed at multiple points. It failed to ensure the sanctity of a system on which rests the future of our children. It failed again when the issue of a leaked mathematics paper was brought to the notice of CBSE chief Anita Karwal the night before the exam through an email to her official ID.
Like a true bureaucrat, the Gujarat-cadre IAS officer ostensibly ignored the mail. A prompt notice of the exam's postponement till a later date could have saved the day. The inconvenience of appearing for a cancelled exam is considerably lower than having to clear it twice.

The board was guilty twice of dereliction of duty and it failed the third time when it issued a casual notification asking the students to reappear for the exams while chief Karwal went incommunicado, ostensibly to take advantage of a long weekend. She eventually surfaced when the situation has spun out of control to declare that: “We have taken the decision in favour of the students and in utmost fairness. Very soon we will announce the dates (for re-test). Students don't have to worry about anything. We are with them.”

In case the CBSE chairperson needs reminding, forcing the students to suffer for board's incompetence isn't synonymous with "favour". Mere words that "we are with you" when actions tell otherwise are of no help. Karwal's reaction reveals the mindset of an official who has grown accustomed to wielding power sans accountability — in short an incompetent bureaucrat among many such who wheel the system and hinder, not help, India's progress. Her approach to a crisis speaks of irresponsibility, callousness and insensitivity. If the students have now broken into a protest, refused to be penalized for the Board's crime and demanded justice, their outrage is justified.

If the CBSE failed its students, so did the Union HRD ministry. Prakash Javadekar's failure lies not only in ensuring a fool-proof system for exam, he also failed miserably to mitigate the crisis. He had little to offer in news conferences beyond an assurance that such leaks won't happen again. Few take a politician's promise seriously. Javadekar appeared clueless and short of ideas beyond placatory noises when affected students and their families wanted to see some accountability.

However, the minister's bigger failure lies in his inability to crack the whip and showing Karwal the door. Surely some amount of accountability needed for a systemic failure on this scale? Justice, in this case, not only should be done but also seen to be done. The sum of all the chaos that we have witnessed so far is this — over 28 lakh students must appear for a retest while the CBSE refuses to show any contrition or tender apology for its recklessness, and the minister fails to hold even one individual within the system that he runs, as responsible. The final responsibility for this real and perceived injury lies with the prime minister, as does the burden of his Cabinet colleague's inability to deal with a crisis. Modi's outreach to the young and proactive efforts to make them a part of the 'New India' story now lies in tatters...

The advent of the telescope punctured our ideals about the nighttime sky. BY ALAN LIGHTMAN

I have in my hand a little book titled The Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius in its original Latin), written by the Italian mathematician and scientist Galileo Galilei in 1610. There were 550 books in the first printing of Messenger. One hundred and fifty still remain. A few years ago, Christie’s valued each first edition at between $600,000 and $800,000. My paperback copy was printed in 1989 for about $12.

Although the history of science has not awarded Messenger the same laurels as Newton’s Principiaor Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, I regard it as one of the most consequential volumes of science ever published. In this little book, Galileo reports what he saw after turning his new telescope toward the heavens: strong evidence that the heavenly bodies are made of ordinary material, like the winter ice at Lute Island. The result caused a revolution in thinking about the separation between heaven and earth, a mind-bending expansion of the territory of the material world, and a sharp challenge to the Absolutes. The materiality of the stars, combined with the law of the conservation of energy, decrees that the stars are doomed to extinction. The stars in the sky, the most striking icons of immortality and permanence, will one day expire and die.

Galileo was born in Pisa and grew up in Florence. From 1592, he taught mathematics at the University of Padua. Unable to discharge his financial responsibilities on his academic salary alone—he had to pay the dowries of his sisters in addition to supporting his three children by a mistress—he took in boarders and sold scientific instruments. In the late 1580s, he performed his famous experiments with motion and falling bodies. In 1609, at the age of 45, he heard about a new magnifying device just invented in the Netherlands. Without ever seeing that marvel, he quickly designed and built a telescope himself, several times more powerful than the Dutch model. He seems to have been the first human being to point such a thing at the night sky. (The telescopes in Holland were called “spyglasses,” leading one to speculate on their uses.)

Galileo ground and polished his own lenses. His first instruments magnified objects a dozen or so times. He was eventually able to build telescopes that magnified a thousand times and made objects appear 30 times closer than they actually were. You can see Galileo’s surviving telescopes in the rarely visited Museo Galileo, in Florence. His first one was 36.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, a tube made of wood and leather with a convex lens at one end and a concave eyepiece on the other. I recently looked out of a replica. First of all, I was surprised at how small the field of view was, appearing as a dime-sized circle of light at arm’s length at the end of a long tube. And dim. However, after squinting for a while, I could indeed make out the faint images in that dime of dim light. And when I trained the primitive telescope on a building a hundred yards away, I could see details in the bricks not visible to my naked eye… read more:

Palestinians die in clashes with Israeli forces during major border protest // Palestine: 17% increase in Israel’s squatter settlements under Trump

At least eight Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli forces in Gaza, Palestinian medics have said, as protesters kicked off a planned six-week demonstration demanding the right of return for refugees. Israel’s military said 17,000 Palestinians were “rioting” in six locations in the Gaza strip on Friday, rolling burning tires at the security fence and its troops, which it said responded “with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators”. 

Israeli forces enforce a no-go zone for Palestinians on land in Gaza close to the fence and regularly fire on young Palestinian men who hurl stones and firebombs. But organisers said the “Great March of Return” demonstration intended to be peaceful, and would comprise of families of men, women, and children camping. Cultural events, including traditional dabke dancing, are planned. While protest camps within Gaza were set up a few hundred metres back from the heavily fortified barrier, large crowds marched on Friday towards the fence and started throwing rocks. Ten men with bullet wounds were seen being carried away on stretchers. All had been shot in the legs.

Israel dismissed the entire demonstration as a Hamas ploy. Its military had deployed reinforcements around Gaza, including more than 100 special forces sharpshooters and paramilitary border police units… read more:

Palestine: 17% increase in Israel’s squatter settlements under Trump
Construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank surged 17 per cent during the first year of US President Donald trump’s presidency, Israeli monitoring group Peace Now has said. According to data released by the group, Israel began construction of 2,783 settlement homes in 2017, 17 per cent more than the annual average since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in 2009.

The vast majority of the new “homes” – 78 per cent – were in settlements which would likely have to be evacuated if a Palestinian state was established, Peace Now added. Additionally, eight per cent were in illegal outposts which are not authorised by the state. Trump has taken a softer line on Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank than his predecessors.

“The steady pace of construction and building deep in the West Bank attest to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s steadfast abetting of the settlement enterprise,” the report said. “It is also apparent that the new US presidency in 2017 had no marginal deterrent effect on these Israeli unilateral moves.”

George Szirtes - Here lies danger. Hungary is on the verge of full-blown autocracy

Having bussed tens of thousands of supporters into Budapest for a pre-election “peace march” on 15 March, prime minister Viktor Orbán addressed them, promising that after his victory on 8 April he will deal with those who oppose him by “moral, political and legal means”. But who are his opponents? Is it the ragbag of small parties who cannot unite in opposition and who have, in any case, been deprived of the platforms required to reach the electorate? Is it the NGOs and other human rights associations who have been looking after those most badly affected by his policies? Is it perhaps the Central European University, Hungary’s most highly ranked university, which produces ideas that might be critical of him? Is it perhaps the refugees he depicts as a tide of migrants ready to drown the country with their alien, menacing ways? And if it is all these, at whose door does he lay the blame? 

Surely it is George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who funded Orbán’s own time at Oxford as well as the underground presses of pre-1989 Hungary and Warsaw Pact Europe, and who now funds some of those troublesome NGOs and the Central European University. It must be him because it is Soros’s grinning face that is on countless billboards and posters around the country in the past year. It must be Soros, he who controls so many other governments and whose idea of an open society is a none-too-well disguised invitation to dangerous Islamist forces to take over Europe – don’t let Soros have the last laugh, declared the posters and billboards, invoking every antisemitic trope in the book. Don’t let this ex-Hungarian, rootless cosmopolitan foist his “sinister vision” of society on us, they echoed.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

JOIN DHARNA UPWAS March 31, 2018, at Muzaffarnagar kachahari

Uttar Pradesh government has made this move to make sure that accused individuals in the Muzaffarnagar case do not undergo trial, to be later found guilty & face punishment.

We strongly oppose and condemn this shameful act by the government of Uttar Pradesh as it completely violates the law and constitution of India.

The  big question before us as a society is that are we ready for such scenarios which can be referred as an example in future, where the government gets opportunity to protect the accused, without them being going through proper judicial process. This is not only against moral and cultural values of society but is also a crime in the court of law. Also, it makes us think why government of UP is trying to protect people who have been framed with serious charges in cases related to riots and murder.

There will be a press Conference after Dharna and fasting from 10.00 am to 2:00 pm outside Muzaffarnagar Kachahari  on March 31, 2018.

Organised By - National Alliance of People's Movement,Khudai Khidmatgar 

Contact -098371 44590---9718479517--9999746196

Thanks & Regards
Faisal Khan 
Khudai Khidmatgar

National Alliance of People's Movement 

+91 99997 46196

+91 99688 28230

see also

THE DISAPPEARED China’s global kidnapping campaign. By Zach Dorfman

Before he disappeared from his luxury apartment at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong on Jan. 27, 2017, Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire, favored female bodyguards. Why, exactly, was unclear: Perhaps he simply liked being surrounded by women; perhaps he trusted them more than men. Whatever the reason, those guards weren’t much help when a group of mysterious men showed up at his apartment that January day and took him away. According to anonymous sources who viewed the hotel’s internal video feed and later spoke to the New York Times, Xiao, who may have been sedated, was rolled through the Four Seasons lobby in a wheelchair, a sheet covering his head. He was then reportedly loaded onto a boat and ferried to the Chinese mainland.

In what has become a familiar script for such disappearances, an initial police report filed by a family member was quickly withdrawn, and Xiao later issued a statement denying that he had been kidnapped. More than one year later, he remains in mainland China, and though he has not yet been charged with any crime, his businesses, under government direction, are expected to sell almost $24 billion in investments, which will reportedly be used to repay state banks.

Such stories are not unique. In October 2015, Chinese government operatives kidnapped Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-based book publisher and bookstore owner, from his apartment in Thailand. Months later, Gui, a Swedish citizen, resurfaced in China, declaring on state television that he had turned himself in to face decade-old drunk driving charges. Gui’s colleague, Lee Bo, a dual Chinese-British national, also appears to have been kidnapped in Hong Kong in December 2015 by Chinese security forces and brought back to the Chinese mainland.

Over the years, the cases have started to pile up. In 2002, Wang Bingzhang, a prominent pro-democracy activist, was seized in Vietnam by Chinese operatives and thrown into prison on the mainland, where he remains to this day. Two years later, another well-known dissident, Peng Ming, was kidnapped in Myanmar and jailed in China; in late 2016, he died under suspicious circumstances in prison. Now, however, Beijing’s policy of forcibly repatriating people it considers Chinese nationals — some of whom are in fact citizens of other countries — appears to be accelerating. Powerful businessmen, ex-Chinese Communist Party officials, dissidents, and activists have all been targeted as part of what Western intelligence officials say appears to be a large-scale campaign.

These abductions have become prevalent enough that officials at the U.S. State Department are growing concerned — though they have yet to raise the subject formally with Beijing. The issue “is being talked constantly about at the top,” says one current State official, who has asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issue. The official notes a recent cable focusing specifically on Chinese renditions in Southeast Asia.

China is not alone in such policies. After 9/11, in what came to be known as “extraordinary rendition,” the United States apprehended scores of foreign nationals accused of terrorism, many of whom it then sent to third countries for harsh treatment, including torture — a policy that soon ignited ferocious domestic and international criticism. But China’s kidnappings appear to be almost exclusively focused on current or former Chinese citizens living abroad who are suspected of corruption-related offenses or more nebulous political crimes... read more:

Judiciary-govt bonhomie would sound death knell for democracy: Justice Chelameswar

Any “bonhomie” between the judiciary and the government would sound the “death knell” for democracy, senior-most Supreme Court judge Justice J Chelameswar has told the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and urged him to convene a full court to deal with the alleged executive interference in judiciary. In an unprecedented letter to the CJI, copies of which were also sent to 22 other apex court judges on March 21, Justice Chelameswar has questioned the probe initiated by Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari against District and Sessions Judge Krishna Bhat at the request of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, despite his name being recommended for elevation twice by the Collegium. Efforts to get a response on the letter from the office of CJI Dipak Misra did not fructify, while several legal luminaries, when contacted, chose not to comment on the matter.

Justice Chelameswar, who had held the unprecedented January 12 press conference along with three other senior judges raising issues including the allocation of cases by the CJI, expressed concern over the executive directly asking the Karnataka Chief Justice to conduct a probe against Bhat, saying this was done even after his name was recommended twice for judgeship by the apex court collegium. In 2016, then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur had asked then High Court chief justice S K Mukherjee to hold an inquiry against Bhat on certain allegations levelled by a subordinate woman judicial officer. After the probe had given him a clean chit, Bhat’s name was recommended by the collegium for elevation.

Vibha Sharma: Delhi traders threaten to stop paying GST, warn they will shift to NCR if sealing continues

The traders and shopkeepers have threatened to stop paying the Goods and Service Tax (GST) if the Central government fails to provide relief from the ongoing sealing drive. On Wednesday, over 7,000 traders, their workers and family members gathered at Ramlila Maidan to protest against the sealing drive by the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee. Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary, Confederation of All India Traders, said if the state government doesn’t take cognisance of their sufferings, they will shift their business operations to cities in National Capital Region (NCR).

“It’s high time; we want solution to this problem. We can’t constantly live under the threat of sealing. If the situation doesn’t improve in the next one week, we may take strong steps like discontinuing paying GST. We will hand over our shops’ keys to the government and shift business to NCR,” Khandelwal said on Wednesday. The move will surely affect the Centre, which collects Rs 180 crore every day and Rs 5,416 crore every month as GST from Delhi’s traders, said Khandelwal.
Hitting out at the monitoring committee, traders said that its members are giving targets to the municipal corporation officials for sealing certain number of shops every day.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Thousands March In France Over The Murder Of An 85-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor // Michael Segalov: If you can’t see antisemitism, it’s time to open your eyes

Thousands March In France Over The Murder Of An 85-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor
Thousands took to the streets across France on Wednesday to decry the murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor that authorities have linked to anti-Semitism. The silent marches, the largest of which took place in Paris, were held in tribute to Mireille Knoll, who escaped a roundup of Jews in Paris at the height of World War II. She fled to Europe and Canada before returning to France after the end of the war, where she lived for the remainder of her life. She was found dead in her apartment last week, and authorities said she was stabbed 11 times before her apartment was set on fire. Two men, ages 22 and 29, have been arrested and preliminarily charged with murder with anti-Semitic motives. “I thought I was going to die on the spot. I cried all the tears in my body and I thought of her. She didn’t deserve this,” her son, Daniel Knoll, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “How can one do that to anybody?”... read more:

Michael Segalov: If you can’t see antisemitism, it’s time to open your eyes
Some forms of antisemitism are self-evident in their manifestation: neo-Nazis wielding swastikas, denial of the Holocaust, vile sentiments known as the “blood libel”, which suggest that Jews harvest the blood of Christians with which to celebrate religious festivals year on year. Most of us would recognise these as bigoted and hateful, an attack on a community that has for centuries experienced prejudice across the world. In the days that have followed Jeremy Corbyn’s offensive Facebook post coming to public attention, there has been outrage from what appear to be two distinct camps. Some Labour members are deeply troubled by the situation, while others argue ignorantly that the Labour leader has done nothing wrong. What has become obvious in the past few days, however, is that many simply do not understand the content of this mural and why it is so deeply offensive – this is a more subtle antisemitic sentiment, which takes contextualising to understand.

French university protests threaten to spread after violence

Protests over Emmanuel Macron’s university reforms threaten to spread to faculties across France
after outrage following the violent breakup of a student sit-in in Montpellier by masked men with bats and sticks. Around 50 students had been staging a lecture hall sit-in at the southern French university on Thursday to protest against the French president’s tightening of university entrance requirements when a group of men in black, many of them wearing balaclavas and masks, began beating the protesters and forcing them out. Video footage showed students screaming as masked men hit students with bits of wood. “They began hitting people,” said one student, who claimed the men also had stunguns.

Several students lodged complaints to police. A legal investigation into “armed group violence” has been opened by the local prosecutor to determine the identities of the men. The French universities minister has demanded an inquiry and Montpellier University has opened its own investigation.
Students in Lille called for a nationwide demonstration on Wednesday against Macron’s university reforms and what they called the heavy-handed treatment of student demonstrators.

The Montpellier law and political sciences faculty remained closed on Monday, as student both for and against sit-in protests demonstrated outside. The law faculty dean, Philippe Pétel, at first told French media that he was in support of the lecture hall being evacuated. But he swiftly resigned last week. Philippe Augé, the Montpellier university head, told local radio the masked assault was “indescribable”, “shocking” and “showed an extreme violence.” He said he wanted to secure and reopen the university as soon as possible.

Macron’s government has argued changes to university entrance procedure are essential. Every student in France who passes the baccalaureate high-school exam has the right to go to university in their home area, which has led to popular subjects such as law and psychology being heavily oversubscribed and prompted the introduction of an unpopular lottery system where demand is highest. Under Macron’s plans, the lottery system would be wound down and the hardest-pressed universities would be allowed to select students on merit.

The government argued that a lack of specialisation at high school and the inability to select students had lead to a high university dropout rate. Around 60% of students in France do not finish their first year of university. The new law stops short of blanket selection, but some students argue it threatens France’s tradition of university education for all. Tension spilled on to the streets of Montpellier at the weekend as around 30 far-right demonstrators from the Ligue de Midi wearing red, white and blue masks engaged in a standoff with around 200 anti-fascist protesters. The anti-facist demonstrators included students who said far-right extremists were among the masked men who broke up the sit-in. Police struggled to keep the two groups apart amid stone-throwing and shouting.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

'They executed him': police killing of Stephon Clark leaves family shattered

“They gunned him down like a dog,” Stevante Clark said of the police shooting of his brother, Stephon. “They executed him.” Stevante was in the backseat of a car, his voice quivering. He stomped his feet 20 times – one for each bullet that police fired at his unarmed brother. “Twenty 
times. That’s like stepping on a roach ... And then stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping, stepping.”

The fatal shooting of Stephon Clark on 18 March by Sacramento police has sparked outrage and massive protests in the California capital, drawing comparisons with other cases of law enforcement killing unarmed black people, such as Oscar GrantMichael Brown and Eric Garner.

Stephon, an unarmed 22-year-old father of two, was standing in his grandmother’s backyard, holding only his iPhone when officers, who did not announce they were police, appeared in the dark, shouted at him to reveal his hands and quickly fired a round of bullets at him before he could respond. His brother, Stevante, 25, has been thrust into the national spotlight and forced to navigate media, protests, lawyers and donations while struggling through his own grief and anger.

“I shouldn’t have to defend my brother. They should be proving their innocence,” Stevante told the Guardian on Sunday night, during an interview in his friend’s car. “I’m exhausted. I hate this. I hate my life.” At a time when debates about gun laws are dominating the news – surrounding the March for Our Lives rallies organized by Florida students – the killing by California police has served as a harsh reminder that law enforcement fatally shoot hundreds of Americans each year, many more than those who die in mass shootings... read more:

Jeremy Corbyn took too long to apologise for antisemitism within the Labour Party

There is the suspicion, well-attested by the Jewish voices rising up against this new “soft” persecution of them on social media especially, that too many people in the Labour Party do not understand the distinctions between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and opposition to the policies of the Israeli government in the Middle East. Overlaying that is a lazy and dangerous belief that all Jewish people everywhere offer unconditional or clandestine financial, political and diplomatic support to the state of Israel, either directly or through the United States, which appears to be exactly the beliefs portrayed in the east London mural.

And motivating much of their suspicions about Jewish people is a response to the plight of the Palestinian people. Some Labour members question the state of Israel’s right to exist in its current form and within its present borders. They can adopt that point of view as a matter of politics if they wish; but not use it to generate hostility towards individual Jews and Jewish groups, in Israel or outside it… read more:

Mythili Sampathkumar - Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused of spying on citizens using official smartphone app

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of spying on his citizens through his office’s official smartphone app.  A security researcher, tweeting under the pseudonym Eliott Alderson, has said Indians’ personal data was sent to a third party’s server in the US without prior permission and the claim has drawn the ire of the main opposition Congress Party. 

Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has denied the allegations and said in a tweet that the data was merely being used to provide users with ”the most contextual content”.

Mr Alderson, whose name is an homage to the television drama Mr Robot, posted a series of tweets over the weekend with screenshots of code that supposedly detail the data privacy breach of the app, which has been downloaded by at least 5m Android users... read more:

Monday, 26 March 2018

Jennifer Wilson - Floating in the Air: The world that made Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, could not abide this scientific dissection of desire, believing that people were ultimately unaware of why they wanted the things they wanted. He knew human beings to be irrational and profoundly self-destructive.. Dostoyevsky was especially appalled by Chernyshevsky’s claim that actions taken in pursuit of a better society were themselves necessarily good. He saw in this seemingly innocent theory a potential justification for violence. 

In September 1865, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was living in Wiesbaden, Germany, and couldn’t pay his rent. A string of gambling losses had left him near financial ruin, a familiar circumstance for Dostoyevsky (as dramatized in his novel The Gambler). Owing a considerable amount of money to his landlord, he hoped an advance for a new novel might shore his fortunes up. Writing to Mikhail Katkov, the editor of the Russian Herald, Dostoyevsky asked for 300 rubles, promising in return the manuscript that would become Crime and Punishment. To make his case, he explained its plot to Katkov:

It is a psychological account of a crime. The action is topical, set in the current year. A young student of lower-middle-class origin, who has been expelled from the university, and who lives in dire poverty, succumbs—through thoughtlessness and lack of strong convictions—to certain strange, “incomplete” ideas that are floating in the air, and decides to get out of his misery once and for all.

“Floating in the air” were a set of ideas, imported from Western Europe, that would come to define the tenets of Russian radical thought in the 1860s. Russian students like Crime and Punishment’s antihero, the 23-year-old Raskolnikov, were bombarded with somewhat distorted and jumbled versions of English utilitarianism, French utopian socialism, and Darwinism. Taken together, they created an intellectual climate that, in Dostoyevsky’s estimation, put too much stock in the ability of science and scientific reasoning to explain human behavior.

These various theories of social improvement became distilled for a Russian audience in the work of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, whose novel of ideas What Is to Be Done? (1863) modeled a philosophy that would later be described as “rational egoism.” Rational egoism relied on the idea that human beings, guided by enlightened self-interest, would ultimately choose to live in a fair and equal society. The idea inspired a generation of young Russians coming of age in the wake of Czar Alexander II’s “great reforms” (which included the abolition of serfdom and the establishment of local forms of self-government), who wanted to push Russian society along further and more quickly through a revolution that they believed began with remaking themselves and interrogating their own desires. 

Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, could not abide this scientific dissection of desire, believing that people were ultimately unaware of why they wanted the things they wanted. He knew human beings to be irrational and profoundly self-destructive. He saw these tendencies in his own propensity for gambling, procrastination, and daily forms of self-ruin... read more:

JOSÉ LUIS PARDO - The senseless rage of resentment

Intellectuals once mocked clumsy attempts to censor art on ‘moral’ grounds in late-Franco Spain and elsewhere. They’re not laughing now. The shift to identity in politics could give the morality police a new lease of life, argues philosopher José Luis Pardo.

It was in February 1975 that an officer of the municipal police in Cáceres, Piris by name, noticed that on show in the window of a bookshop in that Spanish city one could see, amid several other prints of works by the great Aragonese painter Goya, a copy of the painting popularly known as his Maja Desnuda, the ‘Nude Maja’. He did not hesitate for a moment; convinced that this was an assault upon morality and good behaviour, he entered the establishment to order its proprietor to withdraw the offensive item from public view, above all in order to prevent it exciting the libido of adolescent boys from a nearby school. 

At the time the news of his intervention aroused the sarcasm of the intellectual opposition (the only kind that then officially existed), who reacted almost joyfully, or at the least with amusement, because they saw in this bizarre incident an opportunity to show the world the ridiculousness of the last gasps of the censorship apparatus of the Franco dictatorship, which had only a few months left in which to sour the lives of Spaniards and which was then, like all the other elements of the regime, in a state of decay. The rest of Spain, or at least that part of it that had some awareness of the country’s situation, must have felt, when they heard of it, the same sensations that we feel now from the distance of today: a sense of pity and shame at one more unequivocal sign of the lack of culture and backwardness that, as a prevailing element in that society, had become a cause for pride for its ruling authorities (a full meeting of the city council of Cáceres asked the mayor to congratulate Piris for his meritorious action). A lamentable episode from a period that has fortunately been historically overcome, one might say.

However, a few months ago thousands of signatures were gathered online for a petition to demand that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York withdraw from view a painting by Balthus, 
Thérèse Dreaming, because it was considered that this picture offers a complacently romantic image of voyeurism and the commodification of minors, one that is morally dangerous for the masses who might see it. The connotations are certainly different: in the case of the Maja Desnuda the censors came from the sinister camp of fascism (whose identification with evil cannot be doubted), while in the other the demand was based on the defence of victims of sexual abuse (which is, beyond all doubt, a good cause). Nevertheless, is it not legitimate to see a macabre similarity between both incidents, in the extent to which they appear to represent attempts to restrict civil liberties and impose an obligatory ideology (with all that this entails in terms of an attack upon the foundations of liberal societies)? Any response to this question has two dimensions, which are intimately interconnected: one refers to moral progress, and the other to aesthetic progress (can something be considered progress which 40 years ago was considered backwardness?). Let us try to go a little deeper into both... read more:

Journalist, who took on sand mafia, mowed down by truck in MP’s Bhind district

A stringer for a television channel was mowed down by a truck on Monday morning in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind district. Sandeep Sharma, who was working for News World channel, was rushed to a local hospital where he succumbed to injuries during treatment. Sharma, who had conducted two sting operations on police officers, had sought police protection citing a threat to his life. In the letter seeking police protection, Sharma had accused a Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDOP) of being hand-in-glove with those engaged in illegal sand mining

Reports on the Vyapam scam in MP

Bhind SP Prashant Khare said an offence under Section 304 (A) (causing death by negligence) has been registered in connection with the death. He said the police have formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe into the incident. Khare said the truck involved in the accident has been seized and they are looking for the driver who fled after the accident.

Sabotage of Indian criminal justice continues unchecked: Aseemanand’s ‘disclosure’ missing from court

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Yogi Adityanath govt initiates process on withdrawal of 131 riots cases

The BJP government of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh has initiated the process on the withdrawal of 131 cases linked to the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, including 13 of murder and 11 of attempt to murder. Documents examined by The cases include charges under IPC sections related to “heinous” crimes with a minimum punishment of seven years in jail. Besides, there are 16 cases under section 153 A on charges of promoting enmity on religious grounds, and two under section 295 A for deliberate and malicious acts intended to insult a religion or religious beliefs. 

At least 62 persons died and thousands lost their homes in the riots that took place in September 2013. Following the violence, a total of 503 cases were registered against around 1,455 persons at police stations in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli by the then Samajwadi Party government.

The decision to start the process on the withdrawal was taken after a delegation of khap leaders from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, including BJP MP Sanjiv Balyan and the party’s Budhana MLA Umesh Malik, met Chief Minister Adityanath on February 5 and presented a list of 179 cases. Speaking to The Indian Express, Balyan said that in the list presented to the Chief Minister, all the accused were Hindus. On February 23, UP’s Law Department sent letters signed by Special Secretary, Rajesh Singh, to the district magistrates of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, seeking details of the 131 cases under 13 points, including current status. 

One of the points state: “In connection with the withdrawal of cases, your clear opinion on public interest with reason.” Along with the letter, the government also attached eight pages referring to each FIR, including name of the district and police station where it was lodged, the case number and IPC sections listed. Official sources told The Indian Express that the district magistrates forwarded the letter to the SP and the prosecuting officer for the required details. When contacted, Principal Secretary (Home) Arvind Kumar said, “I have no knowledge about it. The state’s Law Department deals with such matters.” The Law Department’s Special Secretary, Singh, declined comment. However, sources in the department confirmed that the letter had been sent.

Baliyan said: “In the meeting with the Chief Minister last month, I requested him to consider the withdrawal of 179 cases in which over 850 Hindus were held accused. All these cases were registered in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts. We had been preparing the list for a while now. The cases include those of arson, attempt to murder and damage of properties but not murder.” However, MLA Malik confirmed that “there are murder cases too on the list”. “After receiving the list, the Chief Minister had told us that list would be sent to the law department for opinion. I don’t know the present status of the list,” Malik said. On January 5, the state government had sought a report from Muzaffarnagar administration on the withdrawal of nine cases against Malik, including 2 for the riots.

Rhonda Garelick: Stormy Daniels Is the Anti-Trump // The Economist: Why Stormy Daniels is so dangerous

'We Americans have a curious relationship to sex: We are both prudes and voyeurs, enshrouding sexual matters in secrecy and shame while producing a pop-culture universe steeped in porn and extreme raunchiness. Recent months have proven just how harmful this dichotomy is: After all, would we need a #MeToo movement if we had a more organic, less prurient relationship to sex?'

Behold: Out from the chaos, lies, secrets, and misdirection of the Trump administration has emerged a figure of bracing honesty, clarity of purpose, even purity: Stormy Daniels — perhaps the one adversary who could take down this presidency.  Daniels and Trump have much in common. Both are theatrical creatures: He was a star of reality television, she is a star and director of adult films. Both have highly constructed, artificial appearances: hair obviously colored, visible makeup. Her extravagantly enhanced bosom finds its analog in his outrageously inflated comb-over. Both have used stage names: Daniels was born Stephanie Clifford and Donald Trump has, in the past, gone by the pseudonym “John Barron”when impersonating his own publicist. And both are at home in the world of erotic entertainment, where female sexual allure is a commodity to be assessed and purchased.

But there is one important difference between them: Stormy Daniels’s artifice is utterly forthright, all tools of a trade she neither excuses nor disavows. As a performer, Daniels pretends for a living. And her particular form of pretending involves sex, which is generally a domain considered private, even secret. But Daniels makes no secret of her profession. On the contrary, she speaks about it with frankness and a disarming, self-ironic wit: “When someone says, ‘Hey, you’re a whore … ’” she told CNN, “I’m like, That is ‘successful whore’ to you!”

Daniels’s honesty extends beyond the topic of her profession. In the past, she was candid about the relationship she had with Donald Trump, and now she is candid about her desire to overturn, via litigation, the nondisclosure agreement intended — along with the famous $130,000 payment — to keep her silent, to “hush” her. Daniels is not suing for money, but for the right to speak, to “un-hush” herself. She has even offered to return the original $130,000. Does this make Stormy a martyr to truth? Not exactly. She has openly acknowledged the financial benefits of her association with Trump, which has sent her popularity and appearance fees soaring: “I would be a fucking idiot to turn [the money and opportunities] down,” she told Rolling Stone. “We live in a capitalist society. Show me one person who would say no.” Surely Donald Trump would agree... read more:

The Economist: Why Stormy Daniels is so dangerous
.... the main reason Ms Clifford is running rings around the commander-in-chief reflects what a nightmarish matchup for him she is personally. The president’s recipe for political success is to appear more down-to-earth than his effete critics in the media, and so robustly transactional that his political rivals appear hypocritical by comparison. Yet Ms Clifford is no smarmy British comic or slippery senator. She is a self-made Republican-voting woman from Louisiana who has sex for a living. In a pre-agreement interview, she suggested she had indulged Mr Trump not because she was attracted to him (“Would you be?”), but because he had promised to make her a TV star. She out-Trumps Trump.

Besides blunting the president’s strengths, she also shows up his biggest weakness. He is at once thin-skinned and unembarrassable, a combination that explains most of his Twitter rages and boasting. After years of dealing with misogynist insults, by contrast, she appears so cheerfully thick-skinned as almost to be operating on a higher plane. This is also apparent on Twitter, where Ms Clifford dispatches the slurs Mr Trump’s fans hurl at her with wry wit (“You know you’re supposed to read that Bible and not smoke it, right?”) and no tolerance for poor English. “Commas are our friend. Don’t forget them,” she advised one critic.

The effect is devastating, a rapier to the president’s bludgeon... read more:

Saturday, 24 March 2018

March for Our Lives: hundreds of thousands demand end to gun violence // Shooting Survivor To Politicians: We Want Change Or We’ll Vote You Out

Max Schachter, father of one of the victims, Alex, a 14-year Stoneman Douglas marching band musician, addressed the crowd at the rally.

Schacter broke down in tears as he recalled how his son enjoyed playing basketball with his older brother, and teaching his little sister “to become a better trombone player” and that on February 13 he was like any other parent, wanting his children to be happy and getting good grades.

Then the Valentine’s Day shooting happened.

“Since the day that changed my life, I will not stop fighting for change,” he said.
“The 17 beautiful angels would not stop fighting until make this world a better and safer place.”
Schachter has set up two foundations in his son’s memory, the Alex Schachter scholarship fund for the MSD marching band that his son loved.

The second is the Safe Schools for Alex foundation.

“Alex’s death could have been prevented, all the lives could have,” he said.

Schachter said the MSD students’ campaign for gun reform had inspired him.

“The beautiful lives lost have not and will not be in vain,” he said.
Read more:

The radical otherness of birds: Jonathan Franzen on why they matter

When someone asks me why birds are so important to me, all I can do is sigh and shake my head, as if I’ve been asked to explain why I love my brothers. And yet the question is a fair one: why do birds matter? My answer might begin with the vast scale of the avian domain. If you could see every bird in the world, you’d see the whole world. Things with feathers can be found in every corner of every ocean and in land habitats so bleak that they’re habitats for nothing else. Grey gulls raise their chicks in Chile’s Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth.

Emperor penguins incubate their eggs in Antarctica in winter. Goshawks nest in the Berlin cemetery where Marlene Dietrich is buried, sparrows in Manhattan traffic lights, swifts in sea caves, vultures on Himalayan cliffs, chaffinches in Chernobyl. The only forms of life more widely distributed than birds are microscopic. To survive in so many different habitats, the world’s 10,000 or so bird species have evolved into a spectacular diversity of forms. They range in size from the ostrich, which can reach 2.7 metres (9ft) in height and is widespread in Africa, to the aptly named bee hummingbird, found only in Cuba. Their bills can be massive (pelicans, toucans), tiny (weebills) or as long as the rest of their body (sword-billed hummingbirds). Some birds – the painted bunting in Texas, Gould’s sunbird in South Asia, the rainbow lorikeet in Australia – are gaudier than any flower. Others come in one of the nearly infinite shades of brown that tax the vocabulary of avian taxonomists: rufous, fulvous, ferruginous, bran-coloured, foxy.

Birds are no less diverse behaviourally. Some are highly social, others anti. African queleas and flamingos gather in flocks of millions, and parakeets build whole parakeet cities out of sticks. Dippers walk alone and underwater, on the beds of mountain streams, and a wandering albatross may glide on its three-metre wingspan 500 miles away from any other albatrosses. I’ve met friendly birds, like the New Zealand fantail that once followed me down a trail, and I’ve met mean ones, like the caracara in Chile that swooped down and tried to knock my head off when I stared at it too long. 

Roadrunners kill rattlesnakes for food by teaming up on them, one bird distracting the snake while another sneaks up behind it. Bee-eaters eat bees. Leaftossers toss leaves. Thick-billed murres can dive underwater to a depth of 213 metres (700ft), peregrine falcons downward through the air at 240 miles an hour. A wren-like rushbird can spend its entire life beside one half-acre pond, while a cerulean warbler may migrate to Peru and then find its way back to the tree in New Jersey where it nested the year before… read more:

Friday, 23 March 2018

Mark Galeotti - Gangster’s paradise: how organised crime took over Russia

NB: This report has much to tell us about our own country. It deserves to be read carefully. When the police and criminal justice system begin to be used by the political elite a mechanisms for revenge, for settling scores - all with the semblance of legitimate procedure - then we are on the brink of criminalising the entire state apparatus. After that it does not matter whether the facade of formal processes are upheld. They are upheld to facilitate crime on a continental scale. Watch your step, officials, judges, police officers. You know where the gang appropriately named the 'parivar' is leading us. DS

I was in Moscow in 1988, during the final years of the Soviet Union. The system was sliding towards shabby oblivion, even if no one knew at the time how soon the end would come. While carrying out research for my doctorate on the impact of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, I was interviewing Russian veterans of that brutal conflict. When I could, I would meet these afgantsy shortly after they got home, and then again a year into civilian life, to see how they were adjusting. Most came back raw, shocked and angry, either bursting with tales of horror and blunder, or spikily or numbly withdrawn. 

A year later, though, most had done what people usually do in such circumstances: they had adapted, they had coped. The nightmares were less frequent, the memories less vivid. But then there were those who could not or would not move on. Some of these young men collaterally damaged by the war had become adrenaline junkies, or just intolerant of the conventions of everyday life.

One of the men I got to know during this time was named Volodya. Wiry, intense and morose, he had a brittle and dangerous quality that, on the whole, I would have crossed the road to avoid. He had been a marksman in the war. The other afgantsy I knew tolerated Volodya, but never seemed comfortable with him, nor with talking about him. He always had money to burn, at a time when most were eking out the most marginal of lives, often living with their parents and juggling multiple jobs. It all made sense, though, when I later learned that he had become what was known in Russian crime circles as a “torpedo”  a hitman.

As the values and structures of Soviet life crumbled and fell, organised crime was emerging from the ruins, no longer subservient to the corrupt Communist party bosses and the black-market millionaires. As it rose, it was gathering a new generation of recruits, including damaged and disillusioned veterans of the USSR’s last war. Some were bodyguards, some were runners, some were leg-breakers and some – such as Volodya – were killers.

I never found out what happened to Volodya. He probably ended up as a casualty of the gang wars of the 1990s, fought out with car bombs, drive-by shootings and knives in the night. That decade saw the emergence of a tradition of monumental memorialisation, as fallen gangsters were buried with full Godfather-style pomp, with black limousines threading through paths lined with white carnations and tombs marked with huge headstones. Vastly expensive (the largest cost upwards of $250,000, at a time when the average wage was close to a dollar a day) and stupendously tacky, these monuments showed the dead with the spoils of their criminal lives: the Mercedes, the designer suit, the heavy gold chain. I still wonder if some day I’ll be walking through one of the cemeteries favoured by Moscow’s gangsters and will come across Volodya’s grave… read more:

Money spent by Indian students in the US is more than India's entire higher education budget

Indian higher education budget at Rs 30,000 cr; Indian students spend Rs 44,000 cr in just US

Indian students spending $6.54 billion in 2016-17 in the US should do a lot to assuage president Donald Trump who is worried about the $20 billion trade deficit his country has with India. More so when you consider that, in 2016, Indian tourists spent another $13 billion in the US—over the last decade, a US government fact sheet points out, Indian students contributed $31 billion to the US economy. This is only the US, when you add up what Indian students spend overseas each year, it adds up to more than $10 billion. 

That number should, however, set off alarm bells in the Indian establishment since such spending is not just a huge drain on the country’s forex reserves, it is several times greater than the central government’s budget for higher education for all universities and colleges. In 2016-17, the period in which 1.9 lakh Indian students went to the US, the central government’s budget for higher education across all universities across the country was a mere Rs 29,703 crore! Just imagine what the money Indian students spend abroad would do for Indian colleges and universities if it was spent here, apart from the obvious impact on the economy. 

That children should choose the best option is hardly surprising given the impact of education on salaries. In 2013-14, for instance, PRICE’s all-India survey had shown that while a family headed by an illiterate person earned Rs 80,759, this rose to Rs 181,123 if the head of the family was a matriculate and to Rs 335,174 in the case of a graduate—a similar order of magnitude was found across most caste groups as well.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Thousands of public sector workers go on strike across France

Thousands of train drivers, teachers, nurses, air traffic controllers and other public sector staff have gone on strike across France and begun street protests against Emmanuel Macron’s latest reform drive. France’s centrist president, who has been in power for nearly a year, has so far escaped large strikes and trade union action, managing to easily push through an overhaul of labour laws in the autumn despite limited street marches.

But Thursday’s strike marks a new joint phase in trade union action – it is the first protest against Macron that has brought together civil servants and railway staff. The strikes will see train cancellations, some schools closed, about 30% of Paris flights cancelled, airport disruption in the south and some 150 protest marches across the countries. There are two different sets of grievances behind the strike day – both of which have the potential to cause a headache for the French government.

France’s large public sector, which has 5.4 million state workers, is up in arms about Macron’s belt-tightening plans, with unions accusing him of seeking to dismantle the state sector. There has been rising anger among public sector staff that Macron has gone back on his campaign promises for better recognition and remuneration and in fact seeks to slash budgets, rely more on contract workers, introduce merit-based pay and voluntary redundancies to cut the number of public workers by 120,000 over five years.

“Discontent and worry are spreading very quickly,” said Jean-Marc Canon of UGFF-CGT, one of the largest civil servants’ unions. Meanwhile, rail workers will use Thursday as the start of prolonged strike action that could last until June. They are protesting against Macron’s plans to push through sweeping reforms to France’s vast state rail system, including cutting costs by limiting special employment rights for rail-workers. From 3 April until 28 June, rail unions have planned strikes on two days out of every five.. read more:

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Suhas Palshikar: Citizenship rights, not burka

Reading Harsh Mander (‘Sonia, sadly’, IE, March 17) and Ramachandra Guha (‘Liberals, sadly’, IE, March 20), one cannot avoid the feeling that the issues need to be redefined and expanded. Mander stops at a frightening narrative of invisibility while Guha is content with a reformist platform irrespective of political context. It is only to be wished that this debate continues and that it helps the liberals and supporters of diversity in shaping their stand in the dual battle - with illiberal ideas and with majoritarianism. As a nation, we lost one moment of introspection on the so-called “Muslim question” in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992; now is the second moment we are almost about to lose — and this time around, we shall not only lose the grasp on the Muslim question but on the larger riddles of religion and modernity, difference and democracy.

Let us begin with Guha’s concern about the burka. One need not hesitate to posit that if women are dictated a dress code, this certainly should be a matter of concern. Having said this, we need to put this issue in perspective. Women not wearing the burka are no less oppressed than women in burka; what we need to fight for is not a dress code but the mindset that relies on religion to imprison the person of a woman. At the same time, the question of unilateral dissolution of marriage needs to be treated as far more important than the injunction to wear a burka.

But even if one agrees with Guha, a nagging question would still remain: If burka-wearing women are coming out to join a rally, should their burka be an impediment? Particularly, if it is understood as a marker of who they are? So the question is not whether or not the burka is a practice deserving abandonment; the question is whether a community be asked to hide its identity in order to be able to participate in public political activity. Wouldn’t we be scandalised by stories of Sikhs having to get rid of their turbans in order to avoid being targeted? Guha’s deep liberal concern notwithstanding, the current avoidance of the burka would surely smack of the dot busters? When somebody is bent on attacking you for wearing a bindi, wearing it suddenly acquires the resonance of defiance.

Two, Guha’s argument actually expands the concerns of Mander, because Guha combines the question of political leadership and the question of social reform. This is important because Muslim politics cannot become truly democratic unless, as Guha argues, it sheds the shackles of religious obscurantism. It takes us to the question of Muslim social reform and its relationship with Muslim politics and Muslim representation... read more:

Some more readings:
Arab women before and after Islam
When it comes to honour killing, India is neck and neck with Pakistan, literally. Every year at least 1000 women get killed in the name of honour in India, almost the same as in Pakistan. Every fifth woman killed in the name of honour in the world is Indian. If not for honour, it is quite likely that Baloch could have been killed before birth just because of her gender. In western India, states like Haryana (879), Punjab (895), Rajasthan (928) and Gujarat (919) that lie on the India-Pakistan border, the sex ratio is a damning condemnation of how girls are considered a perishable commodity, just as Baloch was. (Pakistan's sex ratio - 1:1.05 - is better than India's.)

Ella Hill: As a Rotherham grooming gang survivor, I want people to know about the religious extremism which inspired my abusers

I’m a Rotherham grooming gang survivor. I call myself a survivor because I’m still alive. I’m part of the UK’s largest ever child sexual abuse investigation. As a teenager, I was taken to various houses and flats above takeaways in the north of England, to be beaten, tortured and raped over 100 times. I was called a “white slag” and “white c***” as they beat me.

They made it clear that because I was a non-Muslim, and not a virgin, and because I didn’t dress “modestly”, that they believed I deserved to be “punished”. They said I had to “obey” or be beaten.
Fear of being killed, and threats to my parents’ lives, made it impossible for me to escape for about a year. The police didn’t help me. As I write this, it has been widely reported that a letter has been sent to Muslim groups around the country declaring a national “Punish a Muslim” day; elsewhere, the leaders of Britain First have been found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment.

In mainland Europe, conflict surrounding immigrants and refugees has been fuelled by stories of women being raped by migrants. People have been calling for violent attacks against “any Muslims” and have declared “war on Islam”. Islamophobic online hate and personal attacks occur every day. In response, anti-fascist groups and the “far left” have carried out their own violent attacks on groups they perceive to comprise “white supremacists” or “Nazis”.

As someone who has experienced life inside a grooming gang, I can tell you with certainty that none of this is likely to make any difference to the behaviours of groomers. Like terrorists, they firmly believe that the crimes they carry out are justified by their religious beliefs. 

If anything, rising anti-Muslim hate will probably make groomers stronger in their convictions, and drive ordinary young Muslim men towards fundamentalism, grooming gangs and terrorism. The camaraderie, protection, money, and kudos that these groups offer, makes them a strong pull for anyone. Worryingly, several young men I have spoken to joke that being a gangster and going to jail are their “life goals”… read more:

Patrick Barkham - Europe faces 'biodiversity oblivion' after collapse in French birds, experts warn

The “catastrophic” decline in French farmland birds signals a wider biodiversity crisis in Europe which ultimately imperils all humans. A dramatic fall in farmland birds such as skylarks, whitethroats and ortolan bunting in France was revealed by two studies this week, with the spread of neonicotinoid pesticides – and decimation of insect life – coming under particular scrutiny.

With intensive crop production encouraged by the EU’s common agricultural policy apparently driving the bird declines, conservationists are warning that many European countries are facing a second “silent spring” – a term coined by the ecologist Rachel Carson to describe the slump in bird populations in the 1960s caused by pesticides.

“We’ve lost a quarter of skylarks in 15 years. It’s huge, it’s really, really huge. If this was the human population, it would be a major thing,” said Dr Benoit Fontaine of France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the new studies, a national survey of France’s common birds. “We are turning our farmland into a desert. We are losing everything and we need that nature, that biodiversity – the agriculture needs pollinators and the soil fauna. Without that, ultimately, we will die.”

Farmland makes up 45% of the EU’s land area, but farmland bird populations in France have fallen by an average of a third over the past 15 years. In some cases, the declines are worse: seven out of 10 meadow pipits have disappeared from French fields over that period, while eight in 10 partridges have vanished over 23 years, according to a second French study which examined 160 areas of typical arable plains in central Franceread more: