Showing posts from February, 2021

Lauren Aratani: Electricity needed to mine bitcoin is more than used by 'entire countries

It’s not just the value of bitcoin that has  soared  in the last year – so has the huge amount of energy it consumes. The cryptocurrency’s value has dipped recently after passing a high of $50,000 but the energy used to create it has continued to soar during its epic rise, climbing to the equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of Argentina, according to  Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index , a tool from researchers at Cambridge University that measures the currency’s energy use. Recent interest from major Wall Street institutions like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs probably culminated in the currency’s rise in value and an endorsement by Tesla’s Elon Musk helped drive its recent high as investors bet the cryptocurrency will become more widely embraced in the near future…. Michael Roberts: The top 1% own 45% of all global personal wealth; the bottom 50% own less than 1% //

Pause. Reflect. Think

Susan Stebbing’s little Pelican book on philosophy had a big aim: giving everybody tools to think clearly for themselves    There is an urgent need today for the citizens of a democracy to think well.’ These words, which could have been written yesterday, come from  Thinking to Some Purpose , a popular book by the British philosopher Susan Stebbing, first published in 1939 in the Penguin ‘Pelican’ books series, with that familiar blue-and-white cover. This little book, which could easily be slipped into a pocket and read on the train, in a lunch hour, or at a bus stop, was pitched at the intelligent general reader. In  Thinking to Some Purpose , Stebbing took on the task of showing the relevance of logic to ordinary life, and she did so with a sense of urgency, well aware of the gathering storm clouds over Europe. Stebbing was a university lecturer and then professor in a philosophical world almost completely dominated by men. She began by publishing as L S Stebbing (‘Lizzie’ was her

Samuel Earle: Locking down with Kafka

Kafka’s characters are almost always trapped – in a cage, a court case, an insect’s body, a false identity – and they share a feeling that the walls are closing in, and that a door, once there, is disappearing into the distance. This existential claustrophobia, at once vague and intense, resonates today, particularly under lockdown.   In A Report to an Academy , a short story published by Franz Kafka in 1919, an ape named Red Peter gives a lecture to a scientific conference, recalling how he was hunted in the jungle and then awoke one day in a cage, unable to return to the old way of life he had loved.  “For the first time in my life I could see no way out,” the ape says of his captivity. “Hopelessly sobbing, painfully hunting for fleas, apathetically licking a coconut, beating my skull against the locker, sticking out my tongue at anyone who came near me – that was how I filled in time in my new life. But over and above it all only the one feeling: no way out.” In our time of plag

Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — In midsummer of 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a Black student at Smith College, recounted a distressing American tale: She was eating lunch in a dorm lounge when a janitor and a campus police officer walked over and asked her what she was doing there. The officer, who could have been carrying a “lethal weapon,” left her near “meltdown,” Ms. Kanoute wrote on Facebook, saying that this encounter continued a yearlong pattern of harassment at Smith. “All I did was be Black,” Ms. Kanoute wrote. “It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.” The college’s president, Kathleen McCartney, offered profuse apologies and put the janitor on paid leave. “This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias,” the president wrote, “in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives.”… Bill

Book review: Pankaj Mishra’s Reckoning With Liberalism’s Bloody Past

One of the unfortunate temptations of the Trump era has been the rush to find radical breaks with the past where, in truth, the lines of continuity are strong. The themes of Trump’s speech were already well circulated among the Anglo-American elite, whether in the work of the political scientist Samuel Huntington or in the pages of the British political magazine  The Spectator . “Invocations of the free world and talk of Western values came into vogue during the Cold War, and were meant to assert Western democracy’s superiority over Communism,” the left-wing Indian critic Pankaj Mishra wrote for  at the time. “They were never very convincing even back then: The free world often supported brutal dictatorships, quickly discarding its values when it felt the need.”  Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire;  by Pankaj Mishra Reviewed by Kanishk Tharoor The president only did what so many previous European and American leaders have done, draping themselves in the mantl

Book review - 'Love’s labours should be lost': Maria Stepanova, Russia's next great writer

Vladimir Nabokov - one of Stepanova’s many literary companions in In Memory of Memory - once wrote: “I think it is all a matter of love: the more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is . ”      Years ago, Maria Stepanova visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC to do research for a book she would end up working on for 30 years. After telling him of her plan, the museum adviser replied: “Ah. One of those books where the author travels around the world in search of his or her roots – there are plenty of those now.” “Yes,” replied Stepanova. “And now there will be one more.” In Memory of Memory  is an astounding collision of personal and cultural history, and Stepanova’s first full-length book published in English, translated by Sasha Dugdale. It is a remarkable work from a writer who has won Russia’s most prestigious honours (including the Big Book award for In Memory of Memory , the NOS literary prize, the Andrei Bely prize and a Joseph Brodsky

This obscure energy treaty is the greatest threat to the planet you’ve never heard of

The Energy Charter Treaty allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments for taking action on climate change. It must be stopped before it’s too late.   On 4 February the German energy giant RWE announced it was  suing the government of the Netherlands . The crime? Proposing to phase out coal from the country’s electricity mix. The company, which is Europe’s biggest emitter of carbon, is demanding €1.4bn in ‘compensation’ from the country for loss of potential earnings, because the  Dutch government has banned the burning of coal  for electricity from 2030. If this sounds unreasonable, then you might be surprised to learn that this kind of legal action is perfectly normal – and likely to become far more commonplace in the coming years. RWE is suing under the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), a little-known international agreement signed without much public debate in 1994. The treaty binds more than 50 countries, and allows foreign investors in the energy sector to sue governments for dec

José Zepeda: Prison has not discouraged Cuba’s leading dissident

José Daniel Ferrer is a prominent Cuban dissident and human rights activist, who was one of 75 dissidents imprisoned during a 2003 government crackdown known as the Black Spring. After eight years in prison, he was released in 2011 and has been permanently harassed ever since, spending more than six months in jail in 2020. He is the founder of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), an umbrella organization hosting many Cuban opposition organizations since 2011.  José Zepeda : Has your imprisonment made you reconsider your position on non-violent resistance? José Daniel Ferrer : The most comfortable thing for the regime would be for us to be the violent ones, for us to be the kind of people they try to portray us as. But, as they know, these are lies, and they have to disfigure our reality to try to justify the repression. They know that our position is precisely non-violent; it is one of reconciliation, dialogue, and a profound willingness to find solutions to the serious problems t


There are two certain ways to lose a friend: one, have an affair with his wife;  two, start a discussion on politics. The first can occasionally be a tempting prospect, for as the wise guy said: all best things in life are either illegal, immoral or married to someone else. Having an affair just got easier too, with the Supreme Court ruling that adultery is not a crime. But a word of caution for my friends in the army who may be breaking out the champagne bottles - the Ministry of Defence has filed a review petition in the SC asking that it should continue to be illegal for army types. Apparently ( the govt. feels) that the Army operates in peculiar conditions and the guys at the borders cannot really keep their sights on the Chinese and the Pakis if they are looking over their shoulders all the time to see who's inviting their spouses for a drink in the oui hours of the night. I agree. The SC does appear to be making things difficult for our Army Commanders- first it amends Arti

Juan Cole - Biden’s Double Standards: Iranian Civilians under severe US Sanctions but not accused Saudi Murderer Bin Salman

The Biden administration on Friday declassified and released a  CIA assessment  that Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman bears responsibility for the murder of  Washington Post  columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 3, 2018.  President Biden will not, however, impose sanctions on Bin Salman. Apparently the only punishment will be that Biden won’t talk to the crown prince, only to his father, King Salman. CBC: “U.S. intelligence report blames Saudi crown prince for murder of Jamal Khashoggi” But in fact, secretary of defense Lloyd Austin just spoke with Bin Salman earlier this week, because the latter holds the portfolio of minister of defense, and so is the proper counterpart for military relations.  On Feb. 19, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the Central Command that covers the Middle East, said that the US was seeking more “back up bases” in Saudi Arabia in case of hostilities with Iran…

Jatinder Kaur Tur & Mandeep Punia: Dalit activist Shiv Kumar's medical report describes illegal detention, torture and PTSD / Chitleen K Sethi: Nodeep Kaur gets bail, medical report shows bruises caused by blunt object

A medico-legal examination submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 22 February found that Shiv Kumar, a Dalit labour-rights activist and president of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, faced severe custodial torture at the hands of the Haryana Police. The court had directed a medical examination in a plea by Kumar’s father, Rajbir, which accused the police of illegally detaining the activist on 16 January, when he was participating in the farmers’ protests in the state’s Sonipat city. The report which was conducted by experts from Chandigarh Government Medical College and Hospital found the Shiv Kumar had multiple fractures, broken nail beds, several injuries and psychiatric symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. Prashant Bhushan: Police, NIA, ED Have Become Huge Organised Criminal Gangs Human Rights Watch Report on India 2020 Delhi 2020: The Real Conspiracy; Episode 1: What the Delhi Police Chose Not to See Rajbir’s petition sought an independent investigation int

Gautam Bhatia - Safoora Zargar and Disha Ravi: Similar cases, (same judge), vastly different verdicts

The  order  granting bail to environmental activist Disha Ravi in a sedition case is remarkable not so much because of its outcome, but because of the short shrift that it gives to the state’s hysterical accusations of conspiracy-by-Google-Docs. In ordinary circumstances, this would not be remarkable either – judicial scepticism towards the state’s claims of far-reaching conspiracies to justify keeping people in jail, when there exists no evidence linking them to  actual  violence, should be par for the course. However, that has conspicuously not been the case in recent times, at all levels of the judiciary. Consequently, what makes the bail order remarkable is how (sadly)  uncharacteristic  it is. Indeed, the order stands in stark contrast to the  order  of June 4, 2020, that denied bail to Safoora Zargar, in what have come to be known as “the Delhi Riots cases.” A comparison between the two, therefore, merits scrutiny. In the aftermath of Disha Ravi’s bail, it did not escape publ

Safwat Zargar: In Kashmir, a temple reopens old schism within Pandit community – and shines light on BJP's politics

On February 16, a temple in Srinagar became the subject of national news in India. Several  media outlets  reported that the Sheetal Nath temple in Kralkhud locality had reopened after a period of 31 years, with special prayers held on the occasion of Basant Panchami. The  reports  claimed the temple dedicated to Shiva had remained shut since 1989 when an armed militancy against Indian rule had erupted in Jammu and Kashmir.... Less than two kilometers from the temple, Sanjay Tickoo laughed off Handoo’s claims. “It’s all lies,” he said. “This temple was reopened by us in 2010 and we held a havan at the temple in July 2011.” Tickoo, in his fifties, heads Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a group that advocates on behalf of Kashmiri Pandits who stayed back in the valley during the 1990s. He lives in an old family home in Srinagar’s Barbar Shah locality, and until the Covid-19 pandemic struck, worked in an electronics company. “If you Google about the temple, you will find its reopening wa

Rare Mandarin duck makes appearance in Assam after nearly 120 years // Black-browed babbler found in Borneo 180 years after last sighting

Rare Mandarin duck makes appearance in Assam after nearly 120 years For the last week or so, visitors to Maguri Beel in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in upper Assam's Tinsukia district have been treated to a rare sight – one that they have likely never seen before in their lives. The Mandarin duck, first spotted by Madhab Gogoi, a birder and tour guide from the Tinsukia district, has returned to the wetland after nearly 120 years. According to the birder who first spotted the duck on February 8, the last time the bird was seen in this part of Assam was all the way back in 1902.  (Photo: Gunjan Gogoi) The Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata), often described as 'the most beautiful duck in the world', was first discovered and logged by Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. According to the eBird website, which provides details descriptions of birds from around the world, the duck is native to East Asia. The males are described as “very ornate with bi

Heather Hansman: Who will clean up the 'billion-dollar mess' of abandoned US oilwells?

Jill Morrison has seen how the bust of oil and gas production can permanently scar a landscape. Near her land in north-east Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where drilling started in 1889, more than 2,000 abandoned wells are seeping brine into the groundwater and leaking potent greenhouse gasses. The problem is getting worse. As the oil and gas industry contracts owing to the pandemic, low prices and the rise of renewables, more than 50 major companies have gone bankrupt in the last year. Joe Biden’s recent order to pause drilling on federal land could drive that number higher. Morrison, a rancher and the head of the Powder River Basin resource council, said the crash was exacerbating the abandonment issue…. John Sentamu - It’s time to act against the oil companies causing death and destruction Matt Sheehan - Silent documentary on China's unspooling environmental disasters Toby W

Arctic ice loss forces polar bears to use four times as much energy to survive – study

Polar bears and narwhals are using up to four times as much energy to survive because of major ice loss in the  Arctic , according to scientists. Once perfectly evolved for polar life, apex predators are struggling as their habitats shrink and unique adaptations become less suited to an increasingly ice-free Arctic, researchers say. The mammals are physiologically designed to use as little energy as possible. Polar bears are primarily “sit and wait” hunters, adapted to catching seals by breathing holes, and narwhals have evolved to dive very deep for prey without making fast movements. Now, however, they are having to work much harder to stay alive,  according to a review article  published in Journal of Experimental Biology…. Greenhouse gas emissions transforming the Arctic into 'an entirely different climate' Aseem Shrivastava: An Age gone bli