Friday, April 20, 2018

Yanis Varoufakis: Marx predicted our present crisis – and points the way out


The Communist Manifesto foresaw the predatory and polarised global capitalism of the 21st century. But Marx and Engels also showed us that we have the power to create a better world. 

For a manifesto to succeed, it must speak to our hearts like a poem while infecting the mind with images and ideas that are dazzlingly new. It needs to open our eyes to the true causes of the bewildering, disturbing, exciting changes occurring around us, exposing the possibilities with which our current reality is pregnant. It should make us feel hopelessly inadequate for not having recognised these truths ourselves, and it must lift the curtain on the unsettling realisation that we have been acting as petty accomplices, reproducing a dead-end past. Lastly, it needs to have the power of a Beethoven symphony, urging us to become agents of a future that ends unnecessary mass suffering and to inspire humanity to realise its potential for authentic freedom.

No manifesto has better succeeded in doing all this than the one published in February 1848 at 46 Liverpool Street, London. Commissioned by English revolutionaries, The Communist Manifesto (or the Manifesto of the Communist Party, as it was first published) was authored by two young Germans – Karl Marx, a 29-year-old philosopher with a taste for epicurean hedonism and Hegelian rationality, and Friedrich Engels, a 28-year-old heir to a Manchester mill.

As a work of political literature, the manifesto remains unsurpassed. Its most infamous lines, including the opening one (“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”), have a Shakespearean quality. Like Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his slain father, the reader is compelled to wonder: “Should I conform to the prevailing order, suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune bestowed upon me by history’s irresistible forces? Or should I join these forces, taking up arms against the status quo and, by opposing it, usher in a brave new world?”

For Marx and Engels’ immediate readership, this was not an academic dilemma, debated in the salons of Europe. Their manifesto was a call to action, and heeding this spectre’s invocation often meant persecution, or, in some cases, lengthy imprisonment. Today, a similar dilemma faces young people: conform to an established order that is crumbling and incapable of reproducing itself, or oppose it, at considerable personal cost, in search of new ways of working, playing and living together? Even though communist parties have disappeared almost entirely from the political scene, the spirit of communism driving the manifesto is proving hard to silence... read more:

see also

Posts on Greece






Thursday, April 19, 2018

Vanessa Larson - ‘One of the most important’ sets of Middle East artifacts unveiled

The fertile lands of Mesopotamia are rightly hailed as a “cradle of civilization”, where some of the most important human innovations originated, from agriculture and writing to religion and music. The Penn Museum in Philadelphia has long been home to one of the world’s most significant collections of ancient artifacts from the region – but for years, only a limited number of pieces were shown in encyclopedic, old-school displays that did not do them justice. Now, after a $5m renovation lasting more than three years, the museum is reopening its Middle East galleries, having substantially expanded and completely reconceived them – with more than half of the nearly 1,200 objects on view to the public for the first time.

“This is one of the most important collections from the Middle East anywhere in the world,” said the Penn Museum director, Julian Siggers. “The material here is in every single art history textbook.”
The centerpiece is the section on the Royal Cemetery at Ur, in what’s now southern Iraq, which Penn excavated in partnership with the British Museum from 1922 to 1934. Agatha Christie herself visited during the legendary expedition, which inspired her novel Murder in Mesopotamia. Dating to about 2,450 BC, the site contained more than 2,000 Sumerian graves, of which 16 were determined to belong to royalty. Little is known about the woman known as Queen Puabi, but her burial finery – a stunning gold headdress, elaborate jewelry and a “cloak” made of more than 50 strands of carnelian, lapis lazuli and agate beads – is so sumptuous that the dozens of alabaster vessels and bowls and jars made of precious metals that she was buried with utterly pale in comparison.

Other highlights of the Royal Cemetery are a lyre decorated with a huge bull’s head in gold, silver and shell mosaic that is one of the oldest known musical instruments and the famous Ram in the Thicket, one of a pair of exquisite gold and lapis lazuli statuettes, whose mate is at the British Museum. The sinister side of all of this wealth and finery was a “death pit”, where dozens of royal attendants were buried after being killed by blows to the head after the death of their master.

But the new permanent Middle East galleries are not just about riches and treasure – though there is plenty of it. Through artifacts both extraordinary and commonplace, the exhibits chart the course of human development in the Fertile Crescent over a period of almost 10,000 years, examining the transition to farming and sedentary life, along with numerous associated inventions.
“The first cities, the first writing, first irrigation, first metallurgy – all of these innovations which our own people have built on – start right here in this region, and here is the tangible evidence of that,” said Siggers... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/19/middle-east-artifacts-penn-museum-unveiled


Rohingya camp fire in Delhi: BJP youth wing leader tweets he did it, Prashant Bhushan files complaint

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan on Thursday filed a complaint against Bharatiya Janata Party youth wing leader Manish Chandela, who openly accepted on social networking platform Twitter to burning the Rohingya refugee camps in the national capital earlier this month.

Bhushan was also miffed with the Delhi Police for not taking any action against the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) leader. The advocate, in a tweet, said, “No action yet by Delhi Police to register a case and arrest him and no action by BJP to remove him from the party. State of rule of law under BJP.” While Chandela has deleted his Twitter account following backlash and intense call for action from various groups, including All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), Bhushan, in his complaint, attached the screenshots of the tweet wherein Chandela claimed to have set the fire in the Rohingya camp.

On April 15, Chandela tweeted from his account, “Yes, we did it and we do again #ROHINGYA QUIT INDIA.” In a tweet about the fire in Rohingya camp, he replied, “Well done by our heroes,” when asked about it he tweeted, ” Yes we burnt the houses of Rohingya terrorists.” At least 50 shanties housing Rohingya refugees in southeast Delhi’s Sarita Vihar were gutted in a fire that broke out in the wee hours of April 15. About 230 people from the Rohingya community were staying in the camp.
http://indianexpress.com/article/india/bjp-youth-wing-leader-accepts-to-burning-rohingya-camp-in-delhi-prashant-bhushan-files-complaint-5144747/


Former Civil Servants Slam Modi's 'Belated Promises' on Kathua, Unnao Rape Cases

Holding him responsible for the “terrifying state of affairs”, 49 retired civil servants, in an open letter, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reach out to the families of the Kathua and Unnao rape victims to “seek their forgiveness”. “We have had enough of these belated remonstrations and promises to bring justice when the communal cauldron is forever kept boiling by forces nested within the Sangh parivar,” they added. The Wire is reproducing here full text of the open letter below.

We are a group of retired civil servants who came together last year to express our concern at the decline in the secular, democratic, and liberal values enshrined in our constitution. We did so to join other voices of protest against the frightening climate of hate, fear and viciousness that the ruling establishment had insidiously induced. We spoke then as we do now: as citizens who have no affiliations with any political party nor adherence to any political ideology other than the values enshrined in our Constitution.
We had hoped that as someone sworn to upholding the Constitution, the government that you head and the party to which you belong would wake up to this alarming decline, take the lead in stemming the rot and reassure everyone, especially the minorities and vulnerable sections of society, that they need not fear for their life and liberty. This hope has been destroyed.

Instead, the unspeakable horror of the Kathua and the Unnao incidents shows that the government has failed in performing the most basic of the responsibilities given to it by the people. We, in turn, have failed as a nation which took pride in its ethical, spiritual and cultural heritage and as a society which treasured its civilisational values of tolerance, compassion and fellow feeling. By giving sustenance to the brutality of one human being against another in the name of Hindus we have failed as human beings.

The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight year old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into. In post-independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble. At this juncture, we see no light at the end of the tunnel and we hang our heads in shame. Our sense of shame is all the more acute because our younger colleagues who are still in service, especially those working in the districts and are required by law to care for and protect the weak and the vulnerable, also seem to have failed in their duty.

Prime Minister, we write to you not just to express our collective sense of shame and not just to give voice to our anguish or lament and mourn the death of our civilisational values – but to express our rage. Rage over the agenda of division and hate your party and its innumerable, often untraceable offshoots that spring up from time to time, have insidiously introduced into the grammar of our politics, our social and cultural life and even our daily discourse. It is that which provides the social sanction and legitimacy for the incidents in Kathua and Unnao.. read more:
https://thewire.in/politics/narendra-modi-open-letter-kathua-unnao


Oliver Carroll - Russian investigative journalist dies after mysterious fall from fourth-floor window

A prominent regional journalist investigating crime, politics and the war in Syria has died following a fall from a window of his fourth-floor apartment in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city. 
Maxim Borodin, 32, was found by neighbours on the ground outside his apartment on Friday. He died in hospital two days later, without ever regaining consciousness. Mr Borodin was well-known for delving into Yekaterinburg’s criminal underworld. He was among those who broke the story of unreported deaths in the Kremlin’s shadow armies fighting in Syria. He also published investigations into Russia’s religious right, and the violent protests around “Matilda”, a supposedly blasphemous film depicting a love affair between Tsar Nicholas II and a young ballerina. As one of only few investigative voices in the region, Mr Borodin often felt the brunt of official and criminal displeasure. Just two weeks ago, he was in intensive care with a major head injury. And in October, he was hit over the head with a metal pipe – that attack he linked to his work covering the Matilda protests. 


Police say there were no signs of forced entry into his apartment, and the door was locked from the inside. But friends and colleagues have said they are suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his death. Vyacheslav Bashkov, a local rights activist, told The Independentthat Mr Borodin had called him early in the morning on 11 April. The journalist feared a police raid, said Mr Bashkov. A group of people in masks and fatigues had taken up positions in his courtyard, and he assumed he was the target. “Any journalist engaged in dangerous work has a list of numbers to call should they find themselves in trouble, and Maxim had mine,” said Mr Bashkov. “He thought I would be able to find him a lawyer.”  A little over an hour later, the journalist called back to say the men had disappeared, and there was no longer need for a lawyer. 

Mr Bashkov thought nothing more of it, until two days later, he read about Mr Borodin’s condition. 
He immediately set off to the police station to give a statement, but there he was not met with an enthusiastic reception. “I left the station with the impression they wanted me out of there as soon as possible,” he said.  The editor of Novy Den, the newspaper for which Mr Borodin worked, said that the journalist had no motive for suicide. It looked like a “tragic accident”, said Polina Rumyantseva – but she would “not stay quiet” if there was “a hint of foul play”.  Mr Bashkov insisted the most obvious explanation of the death was the journalist’s professional activity.  

“We have a chain of events that has led to a very suspicious death,” he told The Independent. “The police should be doing everything in their powers to investigate – but they aren’t.” Police have said that they are not treating the death as suspicious.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/maxim-borodin-russian-journalist-dies-mysterious-fall-investigative-yekaterinburg-a8307156.html


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Arrested for doing nothing: 'Waiting while Black'


White fear and loathing of black bodies has struck again in the city of brotherly love. The viral video of Philadelphia police arresting two African-American men at Starbucks last week is yet another reminder that black lives in America are deemed to be disposable. Moreover, it’s a reminder that capitalism and gentrification and the systematic erasure of black flesh are at the core of this and other recent crimes against black men. It is time to address these issues alongside the plague of racist policing in America.

The responsibility for this incident lies with both the initial police call and the police officers who responded to the call. The store manager in this case was not only acting as the guardian of the Starbucks location, but of the whiteness of the space she managed. A black body at rest, not moving, not speaking loudly, asking to use the restroom, presented an existential threat. The “crime”? Not consuming. Ascribing malicious intent, the manager called the police, who promptly responded by arresting and jailing them ― stealing seven hours of their lives that they can never get back.

In the racialized space of capitalist gentrification, police are not only arbiters of the peace, they are the muscle of retail racism: You can only be in this space if you transcend your blackness by showing us some green dollars. Even then, there is no guarantee that green will transcend your black skin...
read more:
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-butler-starbucks-arrests_us_5ad62d07e4b0edca2cbe75c9

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

China’s gift to Europe is a new version of crony capitalism. By Martin Hala

NB: A serious question for those who believe in the inherent utility and goodness of the capitalist system - is there some reason for the rampaging criminality we see (some of which is described below) that has overtaken all semblance of law-governed institutions? That the Chinese Communist Party is inventing new norms for crony capitalism (not to mention its vast holdings in US bonds, which gives it a stranglehold over the American economy) indicates that this tendency has absolutely no political limits - it cuts across the spectrum. Setting aside theoretical disputation on 'socialism' - is or is there not a need to regulate production in the social interest? Why can't the great powers put a stop to massive tax evasion by the rich? Must we subscribe to Margaret Thatcher's view that 'there is no such thing as society'? DS

The scrapping of limits on Xi Jinping’s presidential term last month drew attention to the profound changes the Chinese leader has imposed on his country’s political system. But the significance of this move is global – and it concerns Europe in many ways. China has identified a “window of historic opportunity” for itself across the world. To make the best of this, so its logic goes, the country must be united and disciplined under a strong leader and supreme commander. Xi has been compared with Mao Zedong in that he’s created an entirely leader-centric political system – but to think this has consequences only for China risks missing the wider picture.

In my country, the Czech Republic, we’ve seen up close how China intends to expand its reach. Central Europe is very much part of China’s ambition to “move to the centre of the world stage” – the expression used by Xi during last year’s Communist party congress. The basic tool China relies on is the Belt and Road initiative, a trade and infrastructure project spanning Asia and Europe which encapsulates the regime’s overarching foreign policy goals, in what Xi has dubbed the “new era”.

The Belt and Road initiative is often misunderstood in Europe, not least because it keeps changing its name from one confusing moniker to another. Originally called the New Silk Road in 2013, it soon changed its name to One Belt, One Road, only to be rebranded as Belt and Road, apparently because the word “one” sounded unduly hegemonistic. While layers of propaganda often make it impenetrable to outside observers, its impact is very real – and growing. The project has been showcased with pompous rhetoric and music videos, and more than 60 countries have agreed to join.

But how has it affected us Czechs? I run a project that monitors China’s attempts to build its “smart” power through a nexus of business, political and media networks. In Europe, there’s arguably no fonder ally of Beijing than the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, a populist who was re-elected earlier this year. He is on record calling Xi his “young friend”, and Belt and Road “the most remarkable initiative in modern human history”.

A tipping point came in 2014 when the Czech government proclaimed that the country would aspire to become “China’s gateway to Europe”. This amounted to a major foreign policy change. It broke entirely with the pro-democracy principles and support for Chinese dissidents of Václav Havel, the hero of the 1989 Velvet Revolution who went on to become president. Havel saw clear parallels between the past struggles of dissidents behind the iron curtain in Europe, and those of contemporary Chinese dissidents – in particular the Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo, whose Charter 08 declaration was directly inspired by Charter 77, the Czechoslovak anti-communist movement… 
read more: 
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/18/chinese-europe-czech-republic-crony-capitalism

see also
Posts on Greece




Scientists Accidentally Create A Plastic-Eating Enzyme

A Japanese waste dump is an unlikely location for what may be a huge breakthrough in the plastics pollution crisis. But back in 2016, a team of Japanese scientists sifting through plastic waste found bacteria capable of breaking down and “eating” one of the world’s most popular plastics ― polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. It was hailed as a potential breakthrough at the time.  But in a new twist, British and American scientists have announced that while studying this bacteria, they accidentally created a mutant enzyme that’s even more efficient at breaking down plastic bottles.


The discovery came as a team of scientists from the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. examined an enzyme produced by the Japanese bacteria to find out more about its structure. By shining intense beams of X-rays on it, 10 billion times brighter than the sun, they were able to see individual atoms. Manipulating the structure to better understand how it worked, they accidentally engineered the mutant enzyme.


“Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception,” said John McGeehan, a biology professor at the University of Portsmouth and one of the lead scientists on the research. “This unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics.”.. read more:
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/enzyme-plastic-bottles-pollution_us_5ad5e364e4b0edca2cbde373

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mecca Masjid blast case - Aseemanand acquitted, along with RSS pracharak convicted last year for Ajmer blast

NB: The Sangh Parivar is indignant about the cases 'foisted' on its cadre. We may ask ourselves - not the RSS, for it is above the law - where the file on Aseemanand and his confession disappeared to; why the judge pulled up the police for 'disappearing' the file, and whether this had anything to do with these acquittals. Why did the judge resign? Was he perhaps disgusted by the blatant perversion  of criminal justice under his very nose? Some of us may recollect that in 2015 Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian had accused the government for pressurising her to go soft in cases where the accused were members of groups allied to it. This is what the totalitarian political practices of the RSS/BJP will do to our institutions - they will be undermined beyond recognition. Bharat Mata ki jai etc. DS

On March 8, 2017, an NIA special court in Jaipur had convicted, and later sentenced to life imprisonment, former RSS pracharak Devendra Gupta in the 2007 Ajmer Dargah blast. The court said the NIA had established that Gupta had bought the cellphone SIM cards used to time and trigger the bombs kept at the Sufi shrine. On Monday, another NIA special court in Hyderabad acquitted Gupta and four others, including Swami Aseemanand, of all charges in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast even though the SIM cards used in the blast were part of the set used in the Ajmer Dargah blast.

In its various chargesheets on ‘Hindutva terror cases’, the NIA has maintained that Devendra Gupta, along with a few others, was a common link in these cases and had been asked by key accused Sunil Joshi to get SIM cards in the run-up to the blasts. According to the chargesheets, Gupta, along with key accused Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, had bought 11 SIM cards under fictitious names from Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. These SIM cards were used not only to communicate and discuss the conspiracy but also assemble bombs, where they acted as timer devices.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The last five days of Asifa // Kathua, Unnao: Shame on us

MOHAMMED YOUSUF DOES not remember exactly when he decided to settle in Rasana village in Jammu region’s Kathua district. But he says it must have been about 10-12 winters ago. Yousuf is a Bakerwal, a nomadic tribe of Jammu & Kashmir. His community spends summers at high altitude and winters in the plains, where they move along with their livestock. After his two children died in an accident, Yousuf decided to adopt his sister’s newborn child in 2010. She was named Asifa. In the last few years, the Bakerwals in Jammu province have been facing opposition from local Dogra Hindus. Many Hindus in Jammu fear that the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley has plans to change the demography of Hindu-majority Jammu by resettling Muslims here from elsewhere. 
The settling of a few hundred Rohingya Muslim families in Jammu had fuelled these concerns. In towns and villages along the international border with Pakistan in particular, tension between some sections of Hindus and Bakerwals has been running high. It is this suspicion and hatred that consumed the life of eight-year-old Asifa. The details in the chargesheet filed by the J&K Police’s Crime Branch in a local court on April 9th and 10th against eight accused reveals horrifying details of her last five days after she was abducted on January 10th this year.

“We have solved the case, but what makes me really sad is that police officers were involved in this,” says Ahfadul Mujtaba, Inspector-General, Crime Branch. Asifa’s body was found in a forest next to Rasana on January 17th, seven days after she went missing while looking for her ponies that had ventured far while grazing. Two days later, the local police arrested a juvenile boy who they said had confessed that it was he who had abducted the girl and later killed her with the blow of a stone to her head. But as Bakerwals and others mounted pressure on the government to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), it was turned over to the Crime Branch on January 22th. After sustained interrogation of the juvenile boy and an investigation involving conventional and modern methods, the police say they identified the main two accused in the case—a local 60-year-old villager, Sanji Ram, and a Special Police officer, Deepak Khajuria. The story that has emerged after the Crime Branch investigation, now a part of the chargesheet, is as follows:.. read more:
http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/crime/asifa-the-anatomy-of-a-hate-crime

NB: The note below was sent to me by Rahul, the author of the above report:
Dear Friends: Please share this with others. Because the situation in Jammu is quite grim, and people must not fall victim to untruth around the Asifa case.  Some crucial points about #Asifa case:

1. The ones who cast all aspersions on CBI’s chargesheet in the 2009 Shopian (rape) case have no qualms in using Crime Branch’s chargesheet in Kathua to write front-page stories.
2. Jammu is overwhelmingly secular, except for a few. It has offered safe space to Ladakhis, Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmiri Muslims, among others. There is hardly anyone in Jammu who does not share the nation’s anger on Asifa. We must remember this.
3. People in Jammu have some genuine concerns. Whether Rohingyas should be allowed entry into India is a government decision, but it has been a terrible idea to settle them in an already polarised state like Jammu and Kashmir, which already has a history of insurgency.
4. While raising this issue, a few politically motivated people in Jammu tried to give it a communal colour by forming “Hindu” Ekta Manch and by raising the national flag and shouting religious slogans. The conflating of their concerns with Asifa’s case is a mistake which the wise people in Jammu should have avoided.
5. On top of it, a few in Jammu and elsewhere began to concoct all kinds of lies on Asifa. The said it was a property dispute. Some blamed Rohingyas whereas there is no Rohingya presence in Kathua. This made matters worse and created further confusion.
6. It is also important to understand that a chargesheet is just that - a chargesheet. If the court thinks there is ambiguity in the charges, the case will fall apart and the accused will be let off. It won’t matter whether an Urfan Wani has prepared it or Ramesh Jala has made it or Shwetambra has made it. Till that happens, let us stop forming kangaroo courts on social media. Whatever had to be reported on the basis of chargesheet has been done.
7. Despite tension in Jammu, nobody, I repeat nobody, has been physically intimidated. Threats of violence are exaggerated.
8. This is a case of rape and brutal murder of a child. Please do not treat this as a career enhancer. You got your 2 minutes on camera. Now move on.
9. A few Kashmiri Pandit journalists were involved in reporting this case. They are all professional journalists. They treat every case as important - whether it is in Kathua or Kandhamal. Their allegiance is to their profession, not to a state or a particular people.
10. A few Kashmiris, Muslims and Pandits, came together in Srinagar to express their concern over Asifa. In the last few months, some of them have come together in informal forums, expressing friendship and brotherhood. That is all required and very touching indeed. But all these efforts will mean nothing till there is a mass recognition in Kashmir over what was done to Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. The denial of thirty years has to go.
*******************************************************************


Kathua, Unnao: Shame on us
Our conduct as a society in the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old in Kathua has been so despicable that it can be said, without exaggeration, that India’s moral compass has been completely obliterated, carpet-bombed out of existence by the very custodians of law, morality and virtue who give daily sermons on national pride. This is by no means the first time a child in India has been subjected to the kind of heinous crime that makes you wonder about the dark sickness in our society that we so easily cloak. That the process is moving on, FIRs filed and so forth, will once again give us the sense of normality and closure that has in the past allowed us to move past every such crime. 

Charlotte Higgins - 'There is no such thing as past or future': physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time


What do we know about time? Language tells us that it “passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, washes us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Time flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or creeps or slows or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or landscapes. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, time passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins of the Sun’s chariot, since he would whip up the horses and “bring in cloudy night immediately”. When we wake from a vivid dream we are dimly aware that the sense of time we have just experienced is illusory.

Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who wants to make the uninitiated grasp the excitement of his field. His book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, with its concise, sparkling essays on subjects such as black holes and quanta, has sold 1.3m copies worldwide. Now comes The Order of Time, a dizzying, poetic work in which I found myself abandoning everything I thought I knew about time – certainly the idea that it “flows”, and even that it exists at all, in any profound sense.
We meet outside the church of San Petronio in Bologna, where Rovelli studied. (“I like to say that, just like Copernicus, I was an undergraduate at Bologna and a graduate at Padua,” he jokes.) A cheery, compact fellow in his early 60s, Rovelli is in nostalgic mood. He lives in Marseille, where, since 2010, he has run the quantum gravity group at the Centre de physique théorique. Before that, he was in the US, at the University of Pittsburgh, for a decade….

Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words, “quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quanta”.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Unnao, Kathua rape cases: Involvement of majoritarian interests have shown the State’s complicity in these horrors. By Sharanya Gopinathan

A strange alchemy of time, politics, placement and accident makes some photos just iconic. Like Nick Ut’s 1972 photo of the ‘Napalm girl’, The Terror of War, which became the face of the horrors of the already unpopular Vietnam War, or The Kiss, a 1945 photo taken in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, of a drunk naval soldier kissing a dental nurse, which quickly turned into the icon of celebration of America’s victory over Japan in World War 2. Many years later, the woman in the photo, Greta Zimmer Friedman, expressly said that the spontaneous kiss was not, in fact, consensual.
Here is the photo that'll describe the horrible times we’ve brought upon ourselves and are trapped in right now. Indian scholars of the future will pick apart every pixel of this frame, decoding the import lurking in every corner, the menacing weight of both those smiles, the sombre face of the Ganesha, the saffron and green sign board behind them, everything.
It is a picture of Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a BJP MLA from Unnao accused of raping a minor Dalit girl. Here he stands as he reaches the office of UP chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht (Yogi Adityanath) on Monday. Significantly, he’s flanked by a beaming, indulgent guard on one side, a solemn, imposing Ganesha statue on the right.
Image courtesy: @ANI/Twitter
Image courtesy: @ANI/Twitterwitter
Along with her family, the teenaged girl who accused Sengar of rape attempted suicide on 9 April outside Adityanath's office (the same office where Sengar stands grinning in arrogant joy). Her father was immediately arrested after the suicide attempt, and allegedly beaten so severely that he died in police custody. His post-mortem report reads that he had multiple abrasions near the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, above and below the knee joints and arms, and ultimately died of blood poisoning due to colon perforation.

Bharat Bhushan - Dalits’ anger may spell the end of Modi magic


The Narendra Modi government virtually allowed the dilution of the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Hoping that the courts will rule on issues which the political executive is shy of addressing directly can be a recipe for disaster.

In the face of the rising dalit anger, however, the government has gone into damage control mode. The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have sent teams to various states to contain the political damage. Prime Minister Modi has asked all BJP MPs to spend two nights each in a dalit village. And there will be a mega-event on Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary on April 14, with high rhetoric flowing from the Prime Minister himself. However, the BJP is unlikely to remain unsinged by the dalit anger. The dalits’ perception seems to be that their fortunes are sliding as the legal and constitutional provisions safeguarding their interests are being systematically dismantled.

The Supreme Court ruling comes in the wake of the increasing atrocities against the dalits under BJP rule. A dalit youngster can be beaten or even killed for daring to ride a horse to his own wedding or for sporting a moustache. The only time upper caste goons forget about untouchability is when they rape dalit women. From Una, Shaharanpur and Bhima-Koregaon to Gwalior more recently, there has been an unprecedented display of arrogance towards dalits by politically emboldened upper caste Hindus. That is why the BJP’s protestations about protecting dalit interests lack any credibility.

Given the party’s largely upper caste support base, it has in fact been in favour of diluting the provisions of the SC/ST Act. This was one of the critical demands of the Maratha agitation after the rape of a girl from their community in Kopardi village in Maharashtra in 2016. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had assured the agitators that he would recommend reviewing the provisions of this law to the Centre. Fearful of losing the Maratha vote, the BJP was keen to have a less stringent law.

Zoe Williams - What's the ​best way to get written out of history? Be a middle-aged woman

The omission of Mo Mowlam from a lineup of the architects of the Good Friday agreement shows how older women are forgotten – even ones who changed the world

History erases the contribution of middle-aged women. It takes a lot of time, but that’s fine, because that’s what history’s good at. “How the devil did they get away with that,” you might think, looking at a magazine cover’s lineup of the architects of the Good Friday agreement that is entirely male, and doesn’t include Mo Mowlam. “What happened to the women who actually broke this story,” you possibly wonder, surveying an all-male panel called upon to discuss the finer details of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day, but some time soon the airbrush will have come for Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Sheryl Sandberg, and we will be confused, unable to understand how Brexit meant Brexit, or the euro survived, or who taught Mark Zuckerberg how to open his mouth in the manner of a person smiling.

In fact, all social movements of any importance were started by middle-aged women, and there’s a solid case-by-case reason why we have forgotten them all. The Fight the Famine Committee, after the first world war, began in the house of Catherine Courtney in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, but that’s right on the corner of the road where Margaret Thatcher was coached in public speaking to get rid of her high, grating (cough “female”) voice and make her sound like a story tape on a Sony Walkman that was running out of batteries (this reference is aimed purely at middle-aged women). So already I can’t remember who destroyed the industrial heartlands, and who started the organisation that became Save the Children, which was run by two sisters, though unfortunately they are lost to the mists of time, because one of them had a funny name (Eglantyne Jebb) and the other one didn’t (Dorothy Buxton).


The temperance movement was driven by women, but we let ourselves be written out of that because it gave us a bad name. The highly fruitful school of thought connecting poverty to infant mortality, and perhaps more radically still, holding infant mortality to be a bad thing, was developed by the anarcho-socialists Maud Pember Reeves and Charlotte Wilson in the early 20th century (in fact, Pember Reeves was the socialist and Wilson the anarchist but these things sound more authentically middle-aged when you mash them together). 

The background to their work was the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, which found poverty to be morally driven, exacerbated by do-gooders giving food and relief to poor people, which only incentivised them to be more poor. Pember Reeves and Wilson discovered, with close and what we would now call “embedded” research into the respectable poor, that the children of highly moral ones were also dying in large numbers before they reached the age of 10. You can see why this would be easier to erase than to commemorate.

The abolitionists Hannah More and Elisabeth Jesser Reid were forgotten because they were basically doing the same thing as William Wilberforce, and he had that pretty alliteration going on with his name. Mary Prince, a campaigner, author and former slave, got a commemorative plaque in Camden in 2007, so that’s OK. Sarah Parker Remond, another woman of colour working internationally against slavery in the 1850s, had a more famous brother, which is a near-failsafe way to get yourself written out of history. Shall I use my cloak of invisibility to fight crime, or for evil? That’s the question I ask, upon turning 44. Fortunately, it won’t be remembered either way, and the world is our plaything.



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'My hair turned white': report lifts lid on China's forced confessions

China must stop airing forced confessions from human rights activists, a campaign group has said in a report that details how detainees are coerced into delivering scripted remarks. There have been at least 45 forced televised confessions in China since 2013, according to the report from Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO in Asia. The group called on the international community to put pressure on the Chinese government to end the practice and recommended imposing sanctions on executives at China’s state broadcaster, including asset freezes and travel bans.

Those coerced into confessing describe being dressed by police and handed a script they are required to memorise, and even being given directions on how to deliver certain lines or cry on cue, the report says. One person described enduring seven hours of recording for a television piece that ultimately amounted to several minutes. Others reported police ordering retakes of confessions they were unhappy with. Some occur in jailhouse settings, with the accused wearing an orange prison vest and sometimes seated behind bars, while others are made to look more neutral. The confessions are almost always aired before a formal conviction, violating Chinese law asserting a presumption of innocence. Chinese courts have a conviction rate over 99% and cases rely heavily on confessions. Five of the 37 people described in the report who have confessed on Chinese television have since publicly retracted their confessions.


Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 there has been a wholesale crackdown on civil society and dissent, leading to hundreds of arrests targeting human rights activists and the lawyers that defend them. The practice of forced confessions was especially prominent during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, a decade of political upheaval during which “counter-revolutionaries” were paraded through the streets and forced to confess to their alleged crimes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Drug waste clogs rivers around the world, say scientists

Between 70% and 80% of all antibiotics consumed by humans and farm animals – thousands of tonnes – find their way into natural environments

River systems around the world are coursing with over-the-counter and prescription drugs waste which harms the environment, researchers have found. If trends persist, the amount of pharmaceutical effluence leaching into waterways could increase by two-thirds before 2050, scientists told the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna on Tuesday.

“A large part of the freshwater ecosystems is potentially endangered by the high concentration of pharmaceuticals,” said Francesco Bregoli, a researcher at the Delft institute for water education in the Netherlands, and leader of an international team that developed a method for tracking drug pollution “hotspots”. A large number of drugs – analgesics, antibiotics, anti-platelet agents, hormones, psychiatric drugs, antihistamines – have been found at levels dangerous for wildlife. Endocrine disruptors, for example, have induced sex changes in fish and amphibians.

Bregoli and his team used a common anti-inflammation drug, diclofenac, as a proxy to estimate the presence and spread of other medications in freshwater ecosystems. Both the European Union and the US Environmental Protection Agency have identified diclofenac as an environmental threat. Veterinary use of it has driven a sub-species of vultures on the Indian subcontinent to the brink of extinction. More than 10,000km of rivers around the world have concentrations of diclofenac above the EU “watch list” limit of 100 nanograms a litre, the new research found.

“Diclofenac emissions are similar to any of thousands of pharmaceuticals and personal care products,” said Bregoli. Global consumption of diclofenac tops 2,400 tonnes a year. Several hundred tonnes remain in human waste, and only a small fraction – about 7% – of that is filtered out by treatment plants.. read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/11/drug-waste-clogs-rivers-around-the-world-scientists-say


Rick Wilson: FBI Raid on Michael Cohen Is the Most Dangerous Day of Donald Trump’s Life

This is, of course, another one of those moments where Trump may listen to the devil perched on his shoulder and simply burn the entire Department of Justice to the ground. He is obviously unable to retain counsel skilled enough to control his constant verbal dysentery, even when his yammering puts him in enormous legal peril. Cohen was one of Trump’s most vulnerable and dangerous keepers of secrets. If Trump had a brain, he would have been terrified this moment would come. 

Monday’s FBI raids on Michael Cohen’s Rockefeller Center office, his hotel room, and his home all provided a proper dose of comeuppance to a man more accustomed to screaming threats, shit-tier legal theorizing, and putting his strip-mall law degree to work in service of Donald Trump.
Cohen, far from being the superlawyer to a billionaire real-estate tycoon, really only has one important job: covering up Trump’s alleged dalliances. It was Cohen batting cleanup, dealing with an army of models, escorts, Mistresses (large “M” and small “m”), actresses, porn stars, models, Real Dolls, fangirls, groupies, and random topiary at Mar-a-Delicto with a wall of nondisclosure agreements. Master of the NDA, Cohen thought attorney-client privilege would protect him.

He forgot he had a fool for a client. Trump couldn’t shut his mouth on Air Force One last week.
Even before Trump opened his mouth on that fateful day, Cohen had managed to repeatedly hoist himself with his own petard in his dumb legal fight with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, hoping she would, like so many of Trump’s endless bimbo eruptions, go away after one of his spittle-flecked, apoplectic tantrums. If you ever wanted to see a proof of the Steve Jobs “As hire Bs and Bs hire Cs” rule, it was Trump hiring Cohen, and then Cohen hiring an attorney who was an even lower-rent knockoff version of himself. Hilarity ensued.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Kim Willsher - The spirit of 1968 rises again: can French students and workers triumph?

At Nanterre university, on the outskirts of Paris, militant students have a dilemma: how can they pass their end-of-year exams while simultaneously fighting to derail the French government’s education reforms? “It’s a worry, but we’ll find a way,” says Annaël Lombe, a student union leader who is taking his political science finals in a few weeks. “Exams or not, we won’t stop the protest. We will carry on the action.”

Fifty years ago, Nanterre students issued much the same warning. It turned out to be far from an idle threat. Subsequent protests at Nanterre sparked the May 1968 civil unrest that drew 10 million students and striking workers on to the streets and brought France to a halt. It was a dramatic – some thought revolutionary –moment in French history that nearly toppled a government. In the end, the protests fizzled out, but even now the events remain a model of how people power can rattle French political leaders and in doing so change society.

Today, as France again faces revolts from students and workers, the left sees a rare opportunity to reignite the spark that set the country alight in 1968: railway workers opposed to legislation to change their status have taken to the streets en masse and halted much of the train network; Air France pilots are striking over pay; the elderly are furious about pension reforms; students are protesting over proposed changes to access to higher educationPresident Emmanuel Macron plans to change the baccalaureate requiring students to specialise earlier and to introduce more selective entry requirements for universities as opposed to the current lottery system. Opponents say the measures go against France’s tradition of free education for all and will penalise poorer students.

UP BJP MLA rape case: Father of survivor, who attempted suicide outside CM Yogi Adityanath’s house, dies in judicial custody


The father of an 18-year-old rape survivor, who attempted suicide outside Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence over police inaction, died while in judicial custody on Monday. The accused in the rape case is an Uttar Pradesh BJP MLA. Pappu Singh (50) was rushed to the hospital on Sunday night where he died during treatment. District Magistrate Ravi Kumar NG said while a probe is underway, the postmortem report of the deceased will help ascertain the cause of death.

Unnao Superintendent of Police Pushpanjali Devi told news agency ANI, “Two police officers and four constables have been suspended in this regard. Four persons accused of beating the woman’s father have been arrested.” According to the police, the family of the rape survivor alleged that she was raped by Unnao MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his accomplices last year. The kin added that the family was thrashed after a complaint was filed with the police in this regard. “I was raped. I have been running pillar to post for the last one year but no one is listening to me. I want to see all of them arrested, otherwise I will kill myself,” the woman said. She added, “I had even approached the CM to no result. When we lodged an FIR, we were threatened.”


On Sunday, the woman, along with her family, attempted to set herself ablaze outside the CM’s house. She was rescued by the police and was taken to Gautam Palli Police Station along with her family, where they once again tried to kill themselves. Gautampalli police station inspector Vijaysen Singh said, “The incident took place outside the Golf Club gate (near the official residence of the CM), where the woman from Unnao alleged that she was raped. She also alleged that Unnao police did not register her case against the BJP MLA, despite her complaint and no action was taken.”
Sengar represents the Bangermau constituency in Unnao district, around 90 km from the state capital.

The police inspector said the woman was made to appear before Rajiv Krishan, Additional Director General of Police, Lucknow, who ordered a probe by the Lucknow police. However, the BJP MLA said: “It is a conspiracy hatched by my political opponents to tarnish my image and damage my reputation. I have no problem with any probe being conducted. Let a probe be held and the guilty be given stringent punishment. If I am found guilty in the probe, I am ready to face punishment.”


see also


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Dangerous, growing, yet unnoticed: the rise of America's white gangs. By Donna Ladd

White gangs are less covered by the media, and less punished – even though 53% of gang members in Mississippi are white

The Royals were one of the biggest and most violent street gangs in Chicago by the 1970s, when they joined the Folk Nation alliance with the Black Gangster Disciples, began admitting Hispanics and, later, women and black members. But by the 1980s, the gang had weakened after its leadership got locked up or killed. Strength shifted to prisons, and the brand spread to midwestern and southern states like Mississippi, where the Royals are now one of the largest and most violent gangs in the state. Surveys of young Americans have shown that 40% identifying as gang members are white, but police tend to undercount them at 10% to 14% and overcount black and Hispanic members, says Babe Howell, a criminal law professor at City University of New York who focuses on crime and race. “Police see groups of young white people as individuals, each responsible for his or her own conduct, and hold young people of color in street gangs criminally liable for the conduct of their peers,” she says. How law enforcement labels specific gangs may also obscure white membership, a 2012 study published in the Michigan Journal of Race and Law posited.

Jordan Blair Woods researched how the feds had applied the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico) to various gangs. Congress passed Rico in 1970 to target the mafia as organized “criminal enterprises”. In the early 1990s, the attorney general, Janet Reno, started using Rico to charge criminal street gangs. Woods explains that law enforcement typically splits gang activity into three groups: white supremacist prison gangs, outlaw biker clubs and criminal street gangs. He concluded that systemic racism often keeps white gangs categorized as prison and biker groups instead of street gangs – the category drawing the toughest charges and sentences.

This means white gangs are not typically policed as stringently, he writes, and their members can miss interventions sometimes offered to more publicized gangs of color. That help can include job and life skills training, or interaction with trained “violence interrupters”, who are often former gang members. Woods blames the media for underreporting white gangs. He backs up Ivey’s point about this lack of attention, writing that media may be more prone to cover black and Hispanic gangs “because of consumer demands for stories of sensationalized racial gang violence”.

“How can you help [with a problem] if you don’t recognize it’s there?” Ivey says. “A lot of white kids, 15, 16 years old, look at white gangsters as rock stars.”.. read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/05/white-gangs-rise-simon-city-royals-mississippi-chicago


Alex Matthews-King - Major breakthrough in cancer care

Scientists have heralded a “breakthrough” in cancer treatment after deciphering the genetic code of thousands of tumours providing a road map for more effective treatment and new drug development.
A groundbreaking international collaboration has shown how tumours in different parts of the body, which have previously been treated as separate diseases, have molecular similarities which could render them vulnerable to drugs already on the market.

The research redefines cancer types beyond terms such as breast and bowel, which are descriptions only of where the cancer first arose. Instead, the newly uncovered molecular makeup of cancers could lead to “drastic changes” in how the best drugs for patients are chosen. Doctors told The Independent it could change the “traditional” method of treatment based on the location of tumours and allow clinical trials to “identify patients most likely to benefit” from experimental drugs.

The Cancer Genome Atlas is the largest project of its kind and contains the genetic information for every cell of tumours taken from more than 11,000 patients, across 33 different types of cancer.
Comparing this new data with information on treatments licensed for use in other cancers, the authors showed that 50 per cent of these 11,000 tumours were had potentially effective treatments already out there.

The project also traced these tumours back to mutations in 300 different genes, including well studied types like the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, where mutations significantly increase the risk of breast cancer. It also found that around 8 per cent of the cancer-causing mutations were inherited from parental DNA, rather than mutations caused by things like sun damage or smoking... read more:
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/cancer-gene-tumour-treatment-immunotherapy-cure-breakthrough-map-a8290881.html