Thursday, 31 October 2019

Surveillance via WhatsApp: Rights lawyers, activists, DU professor, Defence journalist

Rights activists and lawyers working in tribal areas, an Elgar Parishad case accused, a Bhima Koregaon case lawyer, a Dalit activist, journalists reporting on defence and strategy and a Delhi University lecturer are among more than two dozen people in India whose phones have been alleged targets of surveillance by operators using Israeli spyware Pegasus via WhatsApp.

Pegasus spy software

On Thursday, The Indian Express reported that Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which sued Pegasus-developer NSO Group in a US federal court Tuesday, confirmed it was aware that journalists and human rights activists in India were targeted for surveillance and it had contacted each one of them. In the latest vulnerability, it is alleged that operators penetrated smartphones through missed video calls to install the spyware.

A Reuters report from Washington said senior government officials in multiple US-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used WhatsApp to take over users’ phones.
The Indian Express spoke to 17 of those targeted in India:... read more:

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Myanmar actors jailed with hard labour for show poking fun at military

A court in Myanmar has sentenced five members of a traditional theatrical troupe to a year in prison for their gibes about the military. The members of the Peacock Generation thangyat troupe were arrested in April for performances during celebrations of Myanmar’s traditional new year in which they poked fun at military representatives in parliament and military involvement in business. The military is a powerful political force in Myanmar even though the country has an elected government.

Thangyat combines dance and music with verse that often has a satirical edge. The five were convicted on Wednesday under a law prohibiting the circulation of information that could endanger or demoralise members of the military. “This is an appalling verdict. Punishing people for performing a piece of satire speaks volumes about the dire state of freedom of expression in Myanmar,” said Joanne Mariner, research director for southeast Asia for the human rights organisation Amnesty International.  “These activists are prisoners of conscience,” she said in an emailed statement. “They have already spent six months behind bars, just because the Myanmar authorities are too thin-skinned to tolerate the mildest criticism.”

The offence is punishable by up to two years in prison, and release on bail is not allowed. Seven members of the troupe face various charges related to the case, including for “online defamation” for livestreaming their performances. “This sentencing of Peacock Generation means that the judiciary of the country is continuing the military’s suppression of freedom of expression,” said Maung Saungkha of Athan, a Myanmar-based free speech group.

In August, another court in Yangon found a prominent filmmaker guilty of defaming the military with his postings on Facebook and sentenced him to a year in prison for allegedly threatening to cause members of the military to mutiny or neglect their duties. Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who was founder of Myanmar’s Human Dignity Film Institute and the country’s Human Rights, Human Dignity International Film Festival, has also been jailed since April....

Shaju Philip - Kerala’s Maoists

NB: The elephant in the room: its the establishment and the ruling class that engages in violence via lynching, communal murder and 'encounter' killing. Those who celebrate Gandhi's assassination need not complain about Maoist violence. DS

Over the last decade or so, Kerala has seen overt and covert Maoist activities in the northern districts of Kannur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Palakkad, and Malappuram. In 2018, Wayanad, Malappuram, and Palakkad joined the Centre’s list of 90 leftwing extremism (LWE) affected districts across the country.

The ripples of the Naxalbari uprising in North Bengal in the late 1960s reached Kerala as well. North Kerala, including Wayanad, was a hotbed of the ultra-Left movement, and A Varghese, a CPM leader who turned to Naxalism, and K Ajitha, who is now a prominent feminist activist, inspired a series of revolts against landlords. The so-called ‘Spring Thunder’, however, suffered a blow when Varghese, who had won the hearts of tribals, was killed in an encounter - which was subsequently revealed to have been fake - in 1970.

The nature of Maoist operations in Kerala is different from that in other LWE-affected states. They have never targeted civilians or caused human casualties, and use the trijunction of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka — where a seamless forest cover and difficult terrain hamper policing — as a safe organisational and transit hub. Forest patches in Palakkad, Malappuram, and Wayanad are part of this trijunction.

Over the past several years, the Maoists set up three squads (dalams) in this area — the Kabani, Nadukani, and Bhavani dalams — and added a fourth, the Varahini dalam, in 2017. They typically enter villages or tribal hamlets bordering forests, address the local people, and distribute leaflets in an attempt to drive home the argument for an armed struggle against the state. They have not, however, had any significant success in winning over youths in the tribal hamlets, for which several factors are responsible: the socio-economic profile and standard of living of tribals in Kerala is far better than elsewhere, and improved policing and greater socialisation of tribal youths make recruitment difficult. The Maoists mostly return to the jungles after collecting provisions from the villages.

There have been stray cases of Maoist attacks on resorts and stone quarrying units alleged to be operating illegally or encroaching on lands of tribals. Forest outposts too, have been occasionally targeted. Police sometimes register cases against identifiable Maoists, based on complaints from local more:

see also

Tavleen Singh: Without rule of law there can be no democracy
Do our leaders want to certify political assassination?

Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee - If we’re serious about changing the world, we need a better kind of economics to do it

In 2017, a poll in the UK asked: “Whose opinion do you trust the most when they talk about their field of expertise?” Nurses came first – 84% trust them. Politicians came last. Economists were second from bottom on 25%.This trust deficit is mirrored by the fact that the consensus of economists (when it exists) is often systematically different from the views of ordinary citizens. The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago regularly asks a group of about 40 prominent academic economists their views on core economic topics. Working with the economist Stefanie Stantcheva, we ran a survey: we selected 10 of the questions that were asked of the Booth panel and put them to 10,000 Americans.

On most of these issues, our respondents were sharply at odds with economists. For example, every single member of the Booth panel disagreed with the proposition that “imposing new US tariffs on steel and aluminium will improve Americans’ wellbeing”. Only a third of our respondents shared their view. And the gap is not only because people are not informed of what economists think: telling them does not seem to change their opinion one bit.

This is troubling, because questions of economics and economic policy are central to the present crisis. Is migration actually threatening the livelihoods of poor workers? Has international trade worsened inequality? Should we worry about the rise of artificial intelligence or celebrate it? Why are our societies becoming increasingly unequal, and what can we (or should we) do about it? How can society help all those people whom the markets leave behind?

Economists have a lot to say about these big issues: they study immigration to see what it does to wages, taxation to determine if it discourages enterprise, redistribution through social programmes to figure out whether it encourages sloth. They have long worried about what happens when nations trade. They have worked hard to understand why some countries grow and others don’t, and what, if anything, governments can do to help. They gather data on what makes people generous or wary, what makes a man leave home and migrate to a strange place, how social media plays on our prejudices. The most recent research often has surprising things to say about all these issues – especially to those used to the pat answers coming from old high school textbooks and TV “economists”... read more:

see also
Trump to Johnson, nationalists are on the rise, backed by billionaire oligarchs

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Sex tapes and acid attacks: Anupama Chandrasekhar, the playwright shocking India

Anupama Chandrasekhar isn’t one to shy away from a tough subject. The Indian playwright has written about acid attacks, sex tapes and her home country’s culture of patriarchal violence. “I have been asked so many times, mostly by men, ‘Why don’t you write comedies, or plays that celebrate India?’” she says. “I tell them: on the day that these things don’t happen any more, I will happily start writing bedroom farces.”

Her latest play, When the Crows Visit, takes Ibsen’s Ghosts as its inspiration. This may seem something of a departure, but Chandrasekhar found a surprising degree of affinity within the drama. “Here is a white, male, Norwegian playwright from the 19th century,” she says, “and yet, as an Indian woman in Chennai in the 21st, I find so much resonance in his work.” It is a brilliantly creepy play, building up tension and horror through the crows that bridge the worlds of the living and the dead.

There is one vital – and shocking – twist in her splicing of India with Ibsen. The original featured Mrs Alving and her syphilitic son Oswald, grappling with the awful disease handed down from his father. But in When the Crows Visit, the toxic inheritance comes in the form of sexual violence against women. What’s more, the mother figure, played by Ayesha Dharker, is both a victim of this violence and an enabler. One reference point in the play is the Delhi bus gang rape of 2012. Even though this takes place off stage, the horror is palpable, spreading through the script like a contagion... read more:

A baby woke up from a coma and smiled at his dad. Now his family is raising money to save his life

As 14-week-old baby Michael began to wake up from a five-day coma, he recognized his dad and smiled in the precious way that only babies can. "It's a moment I will cherish with every inch of my heart," Emma Labuschagne, Michael's mother, told CNN. "To be really honest, it's got to be the happiest moment of my life. He is a living miracle, and we have never felt prouder of him."
When 14-week-old baby Michael woke up from a medically induced coma, he recognized his dad and flashed an adorable smile.

Michael's parents, Emma and Stuart Labuschagne, said they were horrified when they found their baby had stopped breathing in the early hours of March 16. Michael suffered a cardiac arrest in their home, and paramedics shocked him with a defibrillator and injected him with adrenaline to stabilize his heartbeat. When they arrived at the hospital, doctors placed Michael into a medically induced coma to protect his brain from further damage…. read more:

Monday, 28 October 2019

Amazon deforestation could be stopped by ‘miracle tree

Amid devastating wildfires and clearances for agricultural land in the Amazon, a tree species that can help keep soil fertile could provide a sliver of optimism for the grave situation in the rainforest.
The inga tree – also known as the ice cream bean tree – can not only grow on the very poor soil left by destructive slash and burn land clearing, but can ultimately improve the soil and make it fertile enough for other species to return.

Meanwhile, the beans can be sold by farmers, leaves from the trees can be fed to cattle, and they can be coppiced to create firewood – giving people several reasons to invest in growing them.

The reason the trees, of which there are hundreds of species, are uniquely useful is that they fix nitrogen into the soil, which is a key nutrient for plants... read more:

WILLIAM J. ASTORE - Killing Me Softly with Militarism: The Decay of Democracy in America

( – When Americans think of militarism, they may imagine jackbooted soldiers goose-stepping through the streets as flag-waving crowds exult; or, like our president, they may think of enormous parades featuring troops and missiles and tanks, with warplanes soaring overhead. Or nationalist dictators wearing military uniforms 
encrusted with medals, ribbons, and badges like so many barnacles on a sinking ship of state. (Was Donald Trump only joking recently when he said he’d like to award himself a Medal of Honor?) 

And what they may also think is: that’s not us. That’s not America. After all, Lady Liberty used to welcome newcomers with a torch, not an AR-15. We don’t wall ourselves in while bombing others in distant parts of the world, right?  But militarism is more than thuggish dictators, predatory weaponry, and steely-eyed troops. There are softer forms of it that are no less significant than the “hard” ones. In fact, in a self-avowed democracy like the United States, such softer forms are often more effective because they seem so much less insidious, so much less dangerous. Even in the heartland of Trump’s famed base, most Americans continue to reject nakedly bellicose displays like tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue.

But who can object to celebrating “hometown heroes” in uniform, as happens regularly at sports events of every sort in twenty-first-century America? Or polite and smiling military recruiters in schools? Or gung-ho war movies like the latest version of Midway, timed for Veterans Day weekend 2019 and marking America’s 1942 naval victory over Japan, when we were not only the good guys but the underdogs?....

Andrew Bacevich: High Crimes and Misdemeanors of the Fading American Century

Robert Fisk: Trump may have claimed to kill al-Baghdadi, but he has brought Isis back to life

Usually, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. But in the heavenly White House this weekend, it worked the other way round. Lord Trump took the life of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and then gave life back to Isis by telling us all that he’d promised to send its surviving murderers to the borders of the UK and other European nations.

How the Isis lads must have chuckled at this extraordinary offer. How their comrades still gestating within our frontiers must have taken heart at such a suggestion. We have raged mightily and for years against the vicious cult of Isis. But we counted without the Trump cult.

True, Trump’s particular insanity is not as costly in innocent lives as that of Isis (unless, of course, you happen to be Palestinian or Kurdish or one of Sisi’s 60,000 political prisoners). And given that the Americans and the Russians have both claimed to have killed Baghdadi before, it might be wise to let the statutory three days pass just in case the wretched man pops up on yet another video. We killed Osama four times before we actually got him, you may remember.

But this time Trump even thanked Russia, Syria and Iraq – Syria, perhaps, being the Assad regime? If so, certainly something to be debated in the presidential palace in Damascus whose army has been fighting Isis – among many others – for more years than the US military.

But for Trump to say that the support of European nations was a “tremendous disappointment” because they wouldn’t take back their Isis members and adding that, “I actually said to them, if you don’t take them, I’m going to drop them right on your border and you can have fun capturing them again ... They could walk back – they can’t walk to our country. We have lots of water in between our country and them”....

Obituary - Vladimir Bukovsky: Dissident who exposed the Soviet use of psychiatry against political prisoners

 It was Yuri Andropov – the KGB boss and future head of the politburo – who drew up a secret plan to use psychiatric facilities to “treat” dissidents. It was based on Nikita Khrushchev’s belief that anti-Soviet consciousness was a mental disease. Political opponents including Bukovsky were detained without trial. There was no appeal. They were injected with psychotropic drugs.

It was Bukovsky who brought this abhorrent practice to the attention of the west. The campaign to end it became a demand from human rights groups during the cold war. The Soviet Union eventually dropped this state policy. Bukovsky unmasked the role played by doctors and Soviet medicine, and delegitimised those at the top who gave them orders.

Bukovsky later transferred his antagonism to other Soviet and Russian leaders, in particular to Putin, of whom he said, “I think he’s evil.” He was pessimistic about Russia’s future. The KGB was still in charge of a country which, he predicted, was destined to implode. But he took pride in the post-communist liberation of eastern Europe. Of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary he told me: “There we achieved something.”... read more:

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Republicans have embraced an ideology of grievance and it’s a threat to public safety // Four-star US army general compares Trump to Mussolini after ‘watershed moment’ for America

Republicans have embraced an ideology of grievance and it’s a threat to public safety
Nate Kalmoe, an assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University and an expert on political violence, explained to me in 2017 that regardless of whether people lean right or left, those whose ideological positions are at least in the neighborhood of the mainstream tend to “have a greater commitment to nonviolent approaches to politics” than those on the fringes because they “are socialized into nonviolent norms of how participation is supposed to work.”

Kalmoe is one of a number of scholars whose research has found that violent political rhetoric can incite violence by people who already have aggressive personality traits. But the connection between embracing a conspiratorial view of how the world works and political violence is less well understood. Intuitively, if you are a maladjusted person who believes that dark, unseen forces are arrayed against you and your political tribe, it would make you more likely to reject “nonviolent norms of how participation is supposed to work.” If the game is rigged, and normal politics are just a sham, you may well be inclined to take matters into your own hands.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Ashutosh Bhardwaj - In the forest, a voice: On Diwali, Ramayana show us the light, warn us against darkness // Pratishtha Pandya: Forgive me (a poem)

Soon after Rama enters the aranya, Sita delivers a lecture on Kshatriya dharma. A rare instance.. when Sita advises her husband to be cautious... Sita warns that his use of force may damage the forest and his own reputation. Of three grave evils, she notes, two - the “habit of telling specious words” and “vile desire for other’s women” - are absent in him. However, he should be particularly careful about the third, “cruelness without enmity.. That third tendency to torture others’ lives without enmity, that which will usually be effectuated unwarily, has now suddenly chanced before you," Sita says - a clear warning against collateral damage. She fears that in his fight against the demons, Rama may inflict injury on innocent humans and non-humans living in the forest...

Even if he ignored Sita’s advice, Rama, nevertheless, lived by ethics and righteousness. For the contemporary market and the state, the forest is a space to be brought under domination. The collateral damage is infinitely more now. The Adivasis are now the unwitting combatants in the ongoing war between the state and the Maoists - some have donned khaki uniform, others have joined the guerrilla brigade. Whoever survives in the end, the destruction will match that of the Mahabharata.

Diwali 2019: The transformation of Ramayana’s darbha into a treacherous battlefield between the Maoists and the security forces is a reflection on the civilisation that seems to have squandered the wisdom of its epics. Darbha in Bastar is the site of the deadliest-ever Maoist attack on a political party, which killed 27 people, including Chhattisgarh Congress president NK Patel and Mahendra Karma in May 2013. 

In the Valmiki Ramayana, the first sight that catches Rama’s eye as he enters the aranya (wilderness) of Dandaka with Sita and Lakshmana during his exile is a marvellous landscape covered with darbha, considered the most sacred grass in Vedic literature. The ‘Aranya Kanda’ begins with a vivid description of darbha and Dandakaranya, the seat of revered sages. The transformation of Ramayana’s darbha into a treacherous battlefield between the Maoists and the security forces is a reflection on the civilisation that seems to have squandered the wisdom of its epics.

The Derozio Affair - An Annal of Early Calcutta. By Rudrangshu Mukherjee

Hindu College was set up in Calcutta in 1817 as a pioneering institution to impart Western learning to its students. In 1831, its most outstanding teacher, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, then only 22 years old, was compelled to resign. A look at the circumstances that forced his resignation attempts to reconstruct Derozio’s ideas and his teaching methods. The episode offers a glimpse of the intellectual ambience of early 19th-century Calcutta.

EPW, September 9, 2017
On 25 April 1831, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was compelled to resign from Hindu College in Calcutta. He was, in his time, without doubt the most outstanding and inspiring teacher of the college, which in 1831 was only 14 years old. His resignation and the circumstances behind it are important not only to the history of the college, but also for an understanding of the intellectual ambience of Calcutta during the embryonic period of what has come to be known as the Bengal Renaissance. Bypassing the euphemism “resignation’’ - since in most ways it was never that - I argue here that Derozio’s dismissal was rooted in the way Hindu College was founded and in the way it functioned.

Both in his beliefs and in his pedagogy, Derozio was an anomaly in Hindu College. Sometime in 1816, social reformer, journalist and educationist Raja Ram Mohan Roy called a meeting of his friends for the purpose of creating a body of opinion that would undermine idolatry. David Hare, a friend of his, attended the meeting even though he was not invited. Hare had come to Calcutta from his native Scotland in 1800 at the age of 25 and had begun trade as a watchmaker. He made the acquaintance of leading members of Calcutta society and was a frequent visitor to their houses, often to attend nautches and tamashas. A philanthropist by inclination, he had at some point before 1816 handed over his business to an E Grey.1 At the meeting in Roy’s house, Hare argued that one of the ways in which idolatry could be eradicated was by establishing an English school. There was general agreement, but no one acted upon it (Mitra 1877: 1–5).. read more:

One Million Chileans Jam Capital In Protest Against Government / Chile's congress evacuated as inequality protests paralyse Santiago

At least 19 people have died in the turmoil that has swept the South American nation. The unrest began as a protest over a 4-cent increase in subway fares and soon morphed into a larger movement over growing inequality in one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries. The lack of leaders and a list of clear demands in the protest movement show the shortcomings of Chile’s unpopular, discredited political parties, said Marta Lagos, head of Latinobarometro, a nonprofit survey group in Chile. “There is a failure of the system of political parties in its ability to represent society,” Lagos said.

SANTIAGO - Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched peacefully in Chile’s capital Friday, intensifying pressure on a government struggling to contain deadly unrest over economic hardship. The huge throng surged toward a central plaza as participants blew whistles, banged pots and pans and carried Chilean flags and posters demanding change. The diverse crowd included students, workers, parents and their children.
In Chile, a fascist junta in 2 years, wiped out 30,000 of the population, imprisoned 200,000 and left 22,000 widows and 66,000 orphans...the operation under the management of Augusto Pinochet, was fired off by a collective comprising the CIA, the State Dept & American business interests. (Read about Milton Friedman's contribution here). Another example of the 'liberalism' of the 'free world' 

“All of Chile is marching here,” Santiago Mayor Karla Rubilar said, adding that there was hope as well as sadness among the demonstrators. The official crowd estimate was 1 million, the mayor said. “After what we saw in the streets of Santiago today, it’s hard to imagine a way forward that does not  involve” the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera and new elections, said Jenny Pribble, associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond in the United States.

Piñera acknowledged the huge turnout of Chileans, saying they marched peacefully to deliver a call for a fairer and more supportive country. “We’ve all heard the message. We’ve all changed,” he tweeted Friday night....

see also
Twenty years after - the destruction of books in Sarajevo, 1992   
Apoorva Mandhani: Judge Loya's Confidants Died Mysterious Deaths
Victor Jara murder: ex-military officers sentenced in Chile for 1973 death

Friday, 25 October 2019

Greta Thunberg Issues Rallying Cry Against Facebook Over Lies, Death Threats

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg issued a rallying cry against Facebook, saying she may quit the social media platform due to its failure to curb the abuse that is frequently leveled against her.
The 16-year-old from Sweden wrote in a post on Wednesday that “the constant lies and conspiracy theories” that are spread on Facebook about her and others “of course result in hate, death threats and ultimately violence.” 

“This could easily be stopped if Facebook wanted to,” Thunberg wrote, and the company’s failure leaves her, “like many others, questioning whether I should keep using Facebook.” “I find the lack of taking responsibility very disturbing,” she added. “But I’m sure that if they are challenged and if enough of us demand change — then change will come.”

Thunberg’s comment was in response to a video of Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) challenging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The lawmakers confronted the billionaire tech boss over his company’s failure to adequately police hate speech, its refusal to ban false statements in advertising, and its new digital currency project Libra....

Niko Kommenda: SUVs second biggest cause of emissions rise, figures reveal

Growing demand for SUVs was the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions from 2010 to 2018, a new analysis has found. In that period, SUVs doubled their global market share from 17% to 39% and their annual emissions rose to more than 700 megatonnes of CO2, more than the yearly total emissions of the UK and the Netherlands combined.

No energy sector except power drove a larger increase in carbon emissions, putting SUVs ahead of heavy industry (including iron, steel, cement and aluminium), aviation and shipping. “We were quite surprised by this result ourselves,” said Laura Cozzi, the chief energy modeller of the International Energy Agency, which produced the report.

The recent dramatic shift towards heavier SUVs has offset both efficiency improvements in smaller cars and carbon savings from electric vehicles. As the global fleet of SUVs has grown, its emissions have increased more than fourfold in just eight years. If SUV drivers were a nation, they would rank seventh in the world for carbon emissions. 

“An SUV is bigger, it’s heavier, the aerodynamics are poor, so as a result you get more CO2,” said Florent Grelier from the campaign group Transport & Environment. T&E figures show the average mass of new cars rose 10% between 2000 and 2016, which the group suggested could be down to a trend towards SUVs, heavier automatic and dual-clutch gearboxes and the inclusion of other equipment including cameras and sensors....

Five brothers, five countries: a family ravaged by Syria's war. By Michael Safi

The brothers haven’t seen each other since 2012. Their story highlights the deteriorating plight of Syrian refugees. The last time all five brothers were together was in August 2012, inside a bomb shelter in southern Syria. It was Ramadan, and each night they broke fast to the sound of artillery and airstrikes pounding their besieged neighbourhood above. 

A few days later, the Syrian army broke into the area, and each man fled. “We never expected it would be the last time we’d see each other,” says Farid, the oldest of the five men. “Even with the shelling and bombing, we never thought we’d end up the way we have now.” Once it became too dangerous to stay, each of the five brothers followed different paths, taking some risks, avoiding others. 

Now they find themselves scattered around the world, living in five different countries, facing five different futures. Across the Middle East, the situations of the more than 5 million Syrian refugees created by the civil war, already precarious, has deteriorated in recent months. In Turkey, Syrians now face the prospect of being resettled inside a “safe zone” prised from Kurdish control. Lebanon’s economy is reeling, and as Bashar al-Assad’s forces tighten a siege around Idlib, Syria’s last rebel-held province, senior Lebanese officials say it is time for refugees who fled there to return home.

For one family of five brothers, from the southern Syrian province of Dara’a, this growing pressure on Syrian refugees is widening the gulf between where each man has found himself, nearly nine years since protests against the Assad regime erupted....

One of Yannis Behrakis’s most celebrated photos – of a Syrian refugee carrying his daughter towards Greece’s border with Macedonia, 2015.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Trees and flowers

beautiful japan Kawachi Wisteria
Fragrant wisteria tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji Garden.(Fukuoka) The garden displays about 150 wisteria plants of 20 different species. K. Fukunaga/JNTO

This Map of the World Shows Where Our Trees Grow
this map of the world shows where our trees grow This Map of the World Shows Where Our Trees Grow

Ayşe Durakbaşa - Feminism in Turkey: History and contemporary agenda

Turkey’s recent political history, under the increasingly authoritarian rule of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), seems to shackle the republic’s foundational principles and its laicist regime. This development is fraught with extremely unfavourable consequences for women in Turkey. In what follows, I will give an overview of the historical background explaining different positions on women’s issues in Turkey today. I will then present the current state of research on women’s history in Turkey and the history of women’s movements there.

In the mid-1980s, a second wave of Turkish feminism triggered an increased interest in feminist academic research. Women’s studies and gender studies became an important area of research within both the social sciences and the humanities, initiated by feminist scholars and academics mostly educated in western universities. Until now, much of the literature has emerged from universities’ women’s studies programmes, as well as graduate programmes in the social sciences, mainly sociology, political sciences, comparative literature, and cultural studies.

My research on the feminist history of Turkish modernization has been inspired by studies on the relationship between the state, Islam, nationalisms, and women in the Middle East. In Gender and Nation, Nira Yuval-Davis showed that the discourse surrounding womanhood in Middle Eastern societies has been incorporated into nationalisms.....

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

How liberalism became ‘the god that failed’ in eastern Europe. By Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes

Across central and eastern Europe, many of the democracies that emerged at the end of the cold war have been transformed into conspiracy-minded majoritarian regimes. In them, political opposition is demonised, non-government media, civil society and independent courts are denuded of their influence and sovereignty is defined by the leadership’s determination to resist pressure to conform to western ideals of political pluralism, government transparency and tolerance for strangers, dissidents and minorities.

In the spring of 1990, John Feffer, a 26-year-old American, spent several months criss-crossing eastern Europe in hope of unlocking the mystery of its post-communist future and writing a book about the historical transformation unfolding before his eyes. He was no expert, so instead of testing theories, he buttonholed as many people from as many walks of life as possible. The contradictions he encountered were fascinating and puzzling. East Europeans were optimistic but apprehensive. Many of those he interviewed at the time expected to be living like Viennese or Londoners within five years, 10 years at the most. 

But these hopes were mingled with anxiety and foreboding. As Hungarian sociologist Elemér Hankiss observed: “People realised suddenly that in the coming years, it would be decided who would be rich and who would be poor; who would have power and who would not; who would be marginalised and who would be at the centre. And who would be able to found dynasties and whose children would suffer.”

Feffer eventually published his book, but did not return to the countries that had briefly captured his imagination. Then, 25 years later, he decided to revisit the region and to seek out those with whom he had spoken in 1990. This time round, eastern Europe was richer but roiled by resentment. The capitalist future had arrived, but its benefits and burdens were unevenly, even crassly distributed. After reminding us that “For the World War II generation in eastern Europe, communism was the ‘god that failed’”, Feffer writes that “For the current generation in the region, liberalism is the god that failed.”

The striving of ex-communist countries to emulate the west after 1989 has been given an assortment of names – Americanisation, Europeanisation, democratisation, liberalisation, enlargement, integration, harmonisation, globalisation and so forth – but it has always signified modernisation by imitation and integration by assimilation....

ExxonMobil is still bankrolling climate science deniers

According to the company’s latest grantmaking report, it gave $772,500 to 10 such groups in 2018, which does not include its annual dues to trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes a carbon tax. In addition, ExxonMobil continued to promote gridlock directly on Capitol Hill. Two-thirds of the $1.65 million it spent on congressional election campaigns during the 2017-18 election cycle went to climate science deniers.

Nearly half of ExxonMobil’s 2018 donations to nonprofit denier groups went to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Another 30 percent went to the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute, which have been ExxonMobil grantees for 20 years. All told, the company has spent some $37 million since 1998 on a network of denier organizations—a sorry record of support that ranks second only to Charles Koch and his brother, the late David Koch, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries....

Thomas Moller-Nielsen: What is Zizek for?

Consider the following passage:
What would be my - how should I call it - spontaneous attitude towards the universe? It’s a very dark one. The first one - the first thesis would have been - a kind of total vanity. There is nothing, basically. I mean it quite literally. Like, ultimately - ultimately - there are just some fragments, some vanishing things, if you look at the universe it’s one big void. But then, how do things emerge? Here, I feel a kind of spontaneous affinity with quantum physics, where, you know, the idea there is that the universe is a void, but a kind of a positively charged void, and then particular things appear when the balance of the void is disturbed. And I like this idea spontaneously very much, the fact that it’s not just nothing, things are out there. It means something went terribly wrong, that what we call creation is a kind of a cosmic imbalance, a cosmic catastrophe, that things exist by mistake. And I’m even ready to go to the end and claim that the only way to counteract this is to assume the mistake and go to the end. And we have a name for this, it’s called “love.” Isn’t love precisely this kind of a cosmic imbalance? I was always disgusted with this notion of “I love the world, universal love.” I don’t like the world. I’m basically someone in between I hate the world or I’m indifferent towards it. But the of whole of reality, it’s just it, it’s stupid. It is out there. I don’t care about it. Love for me is an extremely violent act. Love is not “I love you all.” Love means, I pick out something, and you know, again it’s this structure of imbalance, even if this something is just a small detail, a fragile individual person, I say “I love you more than anything else.” In this quite formal sense love is evil.

Having conducted an informal poll among friends and family members, my strong suspicion is that your reaction to this passage - which, as you can see, ranges over such seemingly disparate topics as the meaning of the universe, quantum physics and the emergence of matter, and the nature of love - will fall into one of three categories: (i) You believe that it expresses something profoundly insightful; (ii) You believe that it expresses insane gibberish; (iii) You are utterly unsure what to make of it: perhaps it is saying something insightful about the universe, creation, emergence, quantum physics or love; or maybe, in fact, it’s just unbridled lunacy posing as philosophical profundity.

The 'debate of the century': what happened when Jordan Peterson debated Slavoj Žižek

If you fall into the first category, you most likely are - or would be - a Slavoj Žižek fan: the above passage is a verbatim transcript of the start of the popular 2005 documentary film about the 70-year-old Slovenian philosopher, entitled (somewhat unimaginatively) 
Žižek! And you’re in good company. Described on his book covers and lecture tours as a “Hegelian philosopher, Lacanian psychoanalyst, and political activist”, Žižek - a self-described “radical leftist” - is one of the only intellectuals alive today who has an entire journal exclusively dedicated to discussing his ideas. 

Prestigious newspapers and magazines have labelled Žižek a “celebrity philosopher” with “rockstar popularity” who has a “fanatical global following,” the “Elvis of cultural theory,”and, perhaps most (in)famously, as the “most dangerous philosopher in the West.” 
... read more:

Janet Afary & Kevin B. Anderson: Revisiting Foucault and the Iranian Revolution

Salute ! Hong Kong Legislature Withdraws Extradition Bill That Sparked Months Of Unrest

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday formally withdrew planned legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but the move was unlikely to end months of unrest as it met just one of five demands of pro-democracy protesters.  The rallying cry of the protesters, who have trashed public buildings in the Chinese-ruled city, set street fires and thrown petrol bombs at police, has been “five demands, not one less”, meaning the withdrawal of the bill make no difference. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had said many times the bill was as good as dead and said that other demands, including universal suffrage and an amnesty for all those charged with rioting, were beyond her control.

Protesters are also calling for her to stand down and for an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality during a long hot summer of running battles on the streets. “There aren’t any big differences between suspension and withdrawal (of the extradition bill)... It’s too little, too late,” said 27-year-old protester Connie, hours before the bill was withdrawn. “There are still other demands the government needs to meet, especially the problem of police brutality.” Most protesters do not give their full name to avoid being identified.

Police have responded to the violence with water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and several live rounds. Protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing encroaching on the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” formula enshrined during the handover in 1997, which permits the city wide-ranging freedoms not available on the mainland such as an independent judiciary.

The extradition bill would have allowed defendants charged with serious crimes to be sent for trial abroad, including to Communist Party-controlled courts in China. The bill was seen as the latest move by Beijing to erode those freedoms. China has denied these claims and accuses foreign countries of fomenting trouble. A murder suspect whose case Lam had originally held up as showing the need for the extradition bill walked free on Wednesday as the city’s government squabbled with Taiwan over how to handle his potential voluntary surrender to authorities...

see also

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Alzheimer's treatment

In an unexpected reversal, pharmaceutical giant Biogen said it will pursue US Food and Drug Administration approval for aducanumab, an experimental treatment for early Alzheimer's disease, Biogen and its Japanese partner Eisai announced on Tuesday.

Phase 3 clinical studies of aducanumab were discontinued in March. The trials were halted because results of a futility analysis found they were unlikely to meet their primary goals at completion.
On Tuesday, Biogen announced that a new analysis, which included more patients, showed a significant reduction in clinical decline in one trial. Results for some patients in another study support those findings, as well.

The data showed that patients who received aducanumab experienced significant benefits on measures of cognition and function, including memory, orientation and language, according to Biogen...

India's Annual Crime Report leaves out data on Lynching, Crimes Against Activists And Journalists (Satyamev Jayete)

Why data on Lynching, Crimes Against Activists And Journalists Was Left Out Of NCRB Report
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) did not include a number of parameters in its latest report as data assessed were “vague” and “unreliable”, the home ministry said. A Home Ministry official said the parameters which were not included in the NCRB report include lynching, crime against RTI activists, journalists, social activists, besides others. “NCRB did not include murder due to lynching and other heads as data based on these parameters was assessed as ‘vague/unreliable’,” a home ministry official said.

Reports say data on killing by khap panchayats, murder for religious reasons and murder committed by influential people had also been excluded. The NCRB, under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, is responsible for collecting and analysing crime data as defined by the Indian Penal Code and special and local laws in the country. The annual crime data for 2017 was released after a delay of more than a year. Highlights from the report

Mailers from the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists

Lebanon’s ‘October Revolution’ must go on! - by Rima Majed

Palestine: “No Liberation Without Free Women” by Joseph Daher

Solidarity with Iraq Popular Protests: Statement from Alliance of MENA Socialists

Video of San Francisco Event in Solidarity with Iranian Women Political Prisoners; Video of event sponsored by Clarion Alley Mural Project and United4Iran.  Produced by Labor Video Project.

No to the invasion and occupation of northeastern Syria by the Turkish army: Statement from Alliance of MENA Socialists - Includes links to  Chinese, Greek,  German and French translations

Livestream Dialogue on Kurdish Self-Determination and Socialism (Sunday Nov.3)

Palestinian Women Protest Against Femicide, For Free Homeland & Women’s Emancipation

Protest movements in Iraq in the age of a ‘new civil society’ by Zahra Ali

Open Letter from Iranian Workers and Labor Activists to International Workers, Labor Organizations, Syndicates, and All People of Conscience

Intense ocean acidification portends ecological catastrophe: ‘We have been warned’

The acidification of the Earth’s oceans, which climate scientists warn is a dangerous effect of continued carbon emissions, was behind a mass extinction event 66 million years ago, according to a new study. Small-shelled marine organisms survived the meteorite that struck the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs, according to researchers at the GFZ geosciences research center in Potsdam, 
Germany, but the subsequent sharp drop in pH levels in the ocean caused the marine life to go extinct.

“We show ocean acidification can precipitate ecological collapse,” Michael Henehan, who led the study, told The Guardian. Researchers examined shell fossils in sediment dating back to the time period just after the meteorite struck the planet, which showed that the oceans’ pH dropped by about 0.25 units in the 100 to 1,000 years after the strike. “In the boundary clay, we managed to capture them just limping on past the asteroid impact,” Henehan said....

As Common Dreams reported in July, MIT researchers also recently turned their attention to ocean acidification as well. The researchers released data showing that today’s carbon levels could be fast approaching a tipping point threshold that could trigger extreme ocean acidification similar to the kind that contributed to the Permian–Triassic mass extinction, which occurred about 250 million years ago.... read more:

Apoorva Mandhani: Judge Loya's Confidants Died Mysterious Deaths

NB: This report on the deaths of Judge Loya and his two friends appeared in 2018. Our 'free and unfettered' media continues to ignore this matter; as it has ignored the suicide of an ex Chief Minister who alleged high-level corruption in the judiciary; and has also failed to pursue the manner in which criminal cases involving allies of the Sangh Parivar seem to end up in favour of the accused, with no one being held responsible for heinous crimes. 

The government has protected lynchers; and covered up the death of a judge: a relative of the Maharashtra CM threatened a lawyer pursuing the matter. The Sangh and its allies have indulged in sabotage of justice: in the Bhima Koregaon case, they have misused executive power to protect their cadre. They have secured dismissal of cases in which their associates were implicated, by causing court records to disappear as in the Aseemanand  case.

There have been 67 'encounter' killings since March 2017. V. L. Solanki, the police officer who worked on the Sohrabuddin case says the government is trying to silence him: 'If a sitting judge can die suddenly, I am just an inconsequential retired police inspector. The government and the police can go to any extent to ensure everyone accused in the case gets a clean chit. They can kill too.' 

So much for the new policy of zero tolerance of terrorism. (Zero for some, sky is the limit for others).  So much for the justice system we may look forward to under the utopia called Hindu Rashtra. To the op-ed writers who have reduced journalism to Orwellian propaganda, I can only paraphrase (ironically) L K Advani's comment about the behaviour of the media during the Emergency: You were asked to bend, why are you crawling? 

It is ironic because, having sown the wind of communal fanaticism, Mr Advani has been rewarded for his efforts by being placed in the "useless idiot" category of retired firebrands of the Sangh Parivar. Even PranabDa is more useful to them. But there are those who are paying a much heavier price. Judge Loya's family and the families of his dead friends, for example. Not to mention the family of Pehlu Khan, whom no one killed. And numbers of journalists who have been forced out of their jobs for beng committed professionals. DS

At a press conference held  on Wednesday, Congress leaders and Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid and Vivek Tankha demanded an independent probe into the death of special CBI Judge B.H. Loya, raising suspicions regarding the death of two of Judge Loya's associates as well.

Asserting that the "truth is to be investigated Loya talked of pressure and right now democracy is under threat", Mr. Sibal explained that his interactions with a whistle-blower in the case lawyer Satish Uike revealed that Judge Loya had been handed over a "draft order" with a direction to approve it before 31 October, 2014.