Sunday, August 20, 2017

Candida Moss - The Dangerous Myth of Utopian Societies

The mischaracterization of the untouched tribe doesn’t solve the debate about whether or not civilization is bad, but it has proved to be an enduring moneymaker for those able to monetize stone-age wisdom. 

In 1971, Manuel Elizalde, a government official in the Philippines and crony of Ferdinand and Immelda Marcos, announced the discovery of a previously lost “stone age tribe” of indigenous people on the island of Mindanao. Known as the Tasaday, the tribe became overnight celebrities, especially when it was revealed that they didn’t even have a word for “war” and were pacifist cave dwellers. They became the poster children for railing against the decadence of modern civilization. 

As it turned out, however, the Tasaday were a hoax. Linguists first became suspicious when it emerged that this group of supposed cave dwellers had a word for “roof.” Then, in 1986, a Swiss reporter discovered that the Tasaday weren’t living “like our ancestors” at all, but rather in typical houses in which they dressed in blue jeans and T-Shirts. Elizalde had convinced some members of local tribes to pretend to belong to the tribe in exchange for money. The villagers never saw any support and in the early 1980s Elizalde fled with (reportedly) $35 million of funds ear-marked for minority groups and a harem of teenage girls. Recent anthropological work has suggested that while some of the local tribes in the region were more isolated than others, there was no “stone age” group that was untouched by the modern world.

In the past three hundred years, as the British, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, and others trawled the globe colonizing the world and exploring areas that were previously unknown (to them), they have often discovered groups of people who seem to them to be a throwback to the prehistoric world. While the majority of European propaganda caricatures foreign groups as dangerous savages to be subjugated, they were also described as “pristine tribes” as noble, simple, fierce, spiritual, and somehow more authentically human than those of us corrupted by  “civilization.”  

The idea of a group of people untouched and unblemished by modernity encouraged social scientists to see them as a control group when it came to asking questions about whether humans have an original nature that has been somehow sullied by civilization. Among the most popular questions are ones about the human capacity for violence and war. Are people inherently violent or was the slow march away from hunting and gathering that left us war-mongering and conflict-ridden?

In 2013, controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon published his book Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes – The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists. In it, Chagnon presents the Yanomano of the northern Amazonia as a “fierce” tribe of war-mongering people who engage in raids in order to maximize access to women, gain recognition, and take revenge (usually for the death of a member of their group). His essential argument, now being marketed by popular psychologist Steven Pinker, is that men are driven to fight because of reproductive competition. Throughout his work Chagnon presents the Yanomamo as typical stone-age warriors, untouched by the influence of later cultural developments. He writes, for example, that “the Yanomamo are probably a typical example of what life is like in a state of nature” and that “we might want to consider this possibility as we learn more about the nature of human life in a ‘state of nature.’” 

Since the publication of his work, many scholars have criticized Chagnon’s findings and methodology… read more

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tom Phillips - Cambridge University Press accused of 'selling its soul' over Chinese censorship

NB: Communist censorship, doctoring and certification of history - indeed of all human knowledge - is as old as their conquest of power. Maybe a little less, because till the early and mid 1920's censorship in the USSR was not as comprehensive as in the 1930's. The Chinese Communist Party's control of news and information, not to mention history and political thought goes back a long time. During the Bangladesh crisis of 1970-72 the Chinese public was not even aware of the massacres in East Pakistan by the Pakistan Army. The Party decides public access to information and thought; the areas open to research and the ones that are taboo. This is the People's Republic of Amnesia.

The CPC is the master not only of the State, but of the very souls and minds of the Chinese people. And it is the singular pole of legitimate authority - there are no institutions to safeguard basic rights; no court of appeal that can challenge the absolute power of the Party. This is the essence of totalitarianism and all leftists and communists who defend this behaviour should know that by doing so, they undermine their own claims to being democrats. As the late dissident Liu Xiaobo learned to his cost, even to ask the Party to implement the Chinese Constitution might land you in jail. 

The RSS-run Indian government dreams of establishing a similar tyranny over the Indian public. (For example, even before the 2014 elections, they obtained the removal of A. K. Ramanujan's Three Hundred Ramayanas from the DU syllabus). Such a political system is called an ideocracy: the rule of an ideology, where a select group of persons wielding absolute power decide what people should know and how they may think. This comment on Vasily Grossman's novel about Stalinism, Life and Fate sums it up: He… came to understand that guilt and innocence are meaningless when the state decides the nature of reality.. DS

The world’s oldest publishing house, Cambridge University Press, has been accused of being an accomplice to the Communist party’s bid to whitewash Chinese history after it agreed to purge hundreds of politically-sensitive articles from its Chinese website at the behest of Beijing’s censors.
The publisher confirmed on Friday that it had complied with a Chinese request to block more than 300 articles from the China Quarterly, a leading China studies journal, in order “to ensure that other academic and educational materials we publish remain available to researchers and educators” in China.

A list of the blocked articles, published by CUP, shows they focus overwhelmingly on topics China’s one-party state regards as taboo, including the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Mao Zedong’s catastrophic Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong’s fight for democracy and ethnic tensions in Xinjiang and Tibet. They include articles by some of the world’s top China specialists including Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, George Washington University’s David Shambaugh, and Harvard University scholars Roderick MacFarquhar and Ezra Vogel.

A piece by Dutch historian Frank Dikötter and a book review by the Guardian’s former China correspondent, John Gittings, about the Cultural Revolution were also censored. In its statement, CUP insisted it was committed to freedom of thought and expression and had been “troubled by the recent increase in requests of this nature” from China. The publisher vowed to raise the issue with the “revelant agencies” in Beijing at an upcoming book fair.  But on Saturday, as reports of the publisher’s move spread, it faced a growing outcry from academics and activists who called for the decision to be reversed. “Pragmatic is one word, pathetic more apt,” tweeted Rory Medcalf, the head of the national security college at the Australian National University. John Garnaut, a longtime China correspondent and former adviser to the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, described it as “an extraordinary capitulation” to China.Renee Xia, the international director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network, accused the publisher of having “sold its soul for millions of Chinese govt dollars”.

Andrew Nathan, whose name appears three times in the list of censored articles, told the Guardian: “If the Press acceded to a Chinese request to block access to selected articles, as I gather is the case, it violated the trust that authors placed in it and has compromised its integrity as an academic publisher.” Nathan, the editor of a seminal work on the Tiananmen crackdown, added: “I imagine [CUP] might argue that it was serving a higher purpose, by compromising in order to maintain the access by Chinese scholars to most of the material it has published. This is similar to the argument by authors who allow Chinese translations of their work to be censored so that the work can reach the Chinese audience. [But] that’s an argument I have never agreed with.”  “Of course, there may also be a financial motive, similar to Bloomberg, Facebook, and others who have censored their product to maintain access to the Chinese market. This is a dilemma, but if the West doesn’t stand up for its values, then the Chinese authorities will impose their values on us. It’s not worth it.” 

In an open letter two US scholars, Greg Distelhorst and Jessica Chen Weiss, complained that CUP’s move meant Chinese academics and scholars would now only have access to a “sanitized” version of their country’s history. “To me the problem is pretty straightforward: the problem is publishing a politically-curated version of Chinese history and doing so in the name of Cambridge University,” Distelhorst, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Guardian. 
 “This makes the publisher an active participant in rewriting history … When a government asks you to censor a piece of scholarship, that request is fundamentally opposed to a principle of academic freedom that I believe to be important to Cambridge and to many universities.”

In a statement the editor of China Quarterly, Tim Pringle, voiced “deep concern and disappointment” at the tightening controls in China. “This restriction of academic freedom is not an isolated move but an extension of policies that have narrowed the space for public engagement and discussion across Chinese society.”.. read more:

see also

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Tom Phillips - Hong Kong democracy campaigners jailed over anti-China protests

Hong Kong’s democracy movement has suffered the latest setback in what has been a punishing year after three of its most influential young leaders were jailed for their roles in a protest at the start of a 79-day anti-government occupation known as the umbrella movement. Alex Chow, Nathan Law, and Joshua Wong, the bespectacled student dubbed Hong Kong’s “face of protest” were sentenced to between six and eight months imprisonment each.

The trio, aged 26, 24 and 20 respectively, had avoided jail a year ago after being convicted of taking part in or inciting an “illegal assembly” that helped spark the umbrella protests, in late September 2014. But this month Hong Kong’s department of justice called for those sentences to be reconsidered, with one senior prosecutor attacking the “rather dangerous” leniency he claimed had been shown to the activists.

“See you soon,” Wong tweeted shortly after the verdict was announced. In another message he wrote: “Imprisoning us will not extinguish Hongkonger’s desire for universal suffrage. We are stronger, more determined, and we will win.” “You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds! We want democracy in Hong Kong. And we will not give up.”

The decision to increase the activists’ punishments sparked outrage among supporters and campaigners who condemned what they called the latest example of Beijing’s bid to snuff out peaceful challenges to its rule. “It smacks of political imprisonment, plain and simple,” said Jason Ng, the author of Umbrellas in Bloom, a book about Hong Kong’s youth protest movement. Mabel Au, Amnesty International’s director in Hong Kong, said: “The relentless and vindictive pursuit of student leaders using vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities.”.. read more:

Rajdeep Sardesai: Where is PM Modi’s ‘new India’? // Modi Is Taking India to a Dangerous Place. By Prem Shankar Jha

One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s great skills as a political communicator has been his ability to constantly summon up catchy buzzwords. If 2014 was the year of ‘acche din’, Make in India and Swachh Bharat, 2015 was about Start up and Stand up India, 2016 was Digital India and 2017 is now about ‘New India’. But shorn of the artful messaging, what does ‘New India’ really mean?”

Is it a ‘new India’ when over 70 ill-fated children tragically die in a Gorakhpur government hospital, an annual monsoon ritual in one of the more backward regions of the country? Is the prime minister assuring us that Japanese Encephalitis will be conquered, that public investment in health will be doubled, or that primary health centres will be strengthened? The truth is, the public health system in the country is in ICU.

Is it a ‘new India’ when Assam is flooded every year, when thousands are displaced in another annual catastrophe? Are we being assured that there will be a genuine effort to plug the encroachments of river banks, the lack of drainage, rampant deforestation, all of which contribute to the sorrows heaped upon hapless people by a swelling Brahmaputra?

Is it a ‘new India’ when government schools struggle to provide quality education to lakhs of students across the country? In a statement in parliament in December 2016, the HRD minister acknowledged that 18% teacher posts in government-run primary schools and 15% in secondary schools remain vacant. Is the government assuring an end to this acute teacher crisis in the immediate future?

Is it a ‘new’ India where agricultural land-holdings are shrinking, where small and marginal farmers remain indebted to village money-lenders, where deepening agrarian distress means that even in a year of a bountiful harvest, farmers denied a remunerative price commit suicide? Is it a ‘new’ India where the government is in denial on the reality of a manufacturing slowdown and jobless growth, especially in a post-demonetisation universe? A recent study of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) reveals that 1.5 million jobs were lost post-demonetisation in the first four months of 2017… read more:

There was a discernible note of self congratulation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech this year. As usual, it was replete with claims – “In our country everyone is equal”, “Those who have looted the nation and looted the poor are not able to sleep peacefully today” – and exhortations – “Bharat jodo“, “Let us create a new India” – that are entirely devoid of content. But these are not the sources of his satisfaction. That arises from his confidence that he has ensured a continuation of the BJP in power for the foreseeable future. He has done this by ensuring that the opposition is unable to unite to face the BJP in 2019; and by relentlessly undermining the constitutional safeguards upon which India’s secular democracy has rested, should it become necessary to retain power through constitutional sleight of hand.

The path India is being taken on: In the last three years, Modi and Amit Shah have removed virtually every institutional hurdle to the creation of the ‘new nation’ he talked about. The BJP now has a president and vice-president of its choice, thus ensuring that any conceivable future head of state will follow Modi’s instructions. After its successes in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Assam, the party will soon have the majority in the Rajya Sabha that it needs to enact transformative legislation.
By overturning the seniority-cum-merit system of promotion in the army, Modi has sent the message out loud and clear to the army that henceforth, it does not serve the constitution but the prime minister. The spate of statements from all and sundry in the armed forces that have begun to equate dissenting with the BJP with treason shows that the army has got the message.

The obstacle of the Supreme Court remains. But Chief Justice J.S. Khehar, who had overturned the judicial accountability Bill and saved the collegium system for the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges, will retire in a few months and it is a safe bet that Modi will renew his struggle to destroy the higher courts’ capacity for judicial review after he is gone.

Modi’s ideal state: Only the electoral system, the beating heart of our democracy, will remain standing in the way. Despite all their bluster, Modi and Shah are acutely aware of the fragility of the BJP’s hold on power. In 1967, the Congress had required 40.7% of the vote to win 282 seats. In 2014, the BJP did it with under 31% of the vote. They will never, therefore, feel truly secure till they have captured that additional 10%.

Since that extra vote is not yet in sight, they have been following a two-pronged strategy to regain power in 2019. The first is to woo away the crucial 10% of the electorate by creating paranoia among caste Hindus in order to create a ‘Hindu’ identity as distinct from caste. The second is to ensure, by hook or by crook, that the opposition remains fragmented. To do this, the Modi-Shah duo launched a no-holds-barred campaign to destroy state-level parties like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and the Trinamool Congress in Bengal, that enjoy a measure of constitutional autonomy and therefore the capacity to form an alliance capable of defeating the BJP in 2019.
But what is the goal that Modi believes is now in sight? Behind the camouflage of his grandiose and so far unfulfilled promises lies a single unswerving aim. That is to build a Hindu rashtra. There are hints of this in his speech, but three years into the BJP’s reign one does not need these pointers to understand the kind of India that Modi, and the RSS, intend to build…read more :

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Saeed Kamali Dehghan - Iran opposition leader begins hunger strike to demand public trial

An ailing 79-year-old Iranian opposition leader who has been under house arrest since February 2011 has embarked on a hunger strike, demanding authorities try him in public.  Mehdi Karroubi, a former presidential candidate, fell foul of the establishment following the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, which led to months of unrest. A leader of the Green movement, he was put under round-the-clock surveillance by guards living in his home six years ago, without being put on trial or publicly charged. He has been taken to hospital twice in the last three weeks and has undergone heart surgery. 

Saham News, a website close to Karroubi, quoted his wife as saying that he started the dry hunger strike soon after performing his morning prayers on Wednesday, and that he will refuse to eat or drink until his demands are met.  “He wants the security guards to leave the premises of his house,” she said. Never before – pre-Islamic revolution nor after it – we have seen such presence of guards, living inside the house alongside those under house arrest, keeping all aspects of his life under watch, through bugs and cameras. “If the house arrest is to continue, he wants to be put on trial in public, after six and a half years under house arrest, he wants the authorities to announce when they will hold a trial in public.”

Two other opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, also a former presidential candidate, and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were put under house arrest in Tehran in similar circumstances in 2011.  Both Karroubi and Mousavi are suffering from medical complications partly as a result of their age. Mousavi, 75, has also been taken to hospital a number of times in recent years. Some members of the three leaders’ immediate families are allowed to visit them in pre-arranged and approved meetings. 

 “My father wants a trial that is held in public and in the presence of a jury as provisioned by article 168 of the constitution,” Karroubi’s son, Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, said. “The establishment wants a quiet end to the house arrests, without paying a price. My father has said that he will not challenge the verdict of a trial, he hasn’t had a chance to defend himself and he wants to respond to the accusations made by the state.” He said he had spoken to his father by phone recently when he was discharged from hospital. It was the first time in six months the two had been allowed to talk. “My father is on the verge of becoming 80 and a dry hunger strike, which given his health complications raises serious concerns.” The continued restrictions on opposition leaders is a major challenge for the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, and popular demand for an end to the house arrests is high. Almost every rally Rouhani held during the campaign that led to his re-election in May featured chants by supporters in support of Karroubi, Mousavi and Rahnavard. .. read more:

Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War? By Robin Wright

'Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.'

NB: These conditions might sound familiar to Indians and South Asians in general.. A very thought provoking essay - DS

A day after the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. “The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States.

America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. Earlier this year, I began a conversation with Keith Mines about America’s turmoil. Mines has spent his career—in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department—navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. He returned to Washington after sixteen years to find conditions that he had seen nurture conflict abroad now visible at home. It haunts him. In March, Mines was one of several national-security experts whom Foreign Policy asked to evaluate the risks of a second civil war—with percentages. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.

“We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,” Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales. Mines’s definition of a civil war is large-scale violence that includes a rejection of traditional political authority and requires the National Guard to deal with it. On Saturday, McAuliffe put the National Guard on alert and declared a state of emergency.

Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.

President Trump “modeled violence as a way to advance politically and validated bullying during and after the campaign,” Mines wrote in Foreign Policy. “Judging from recent events the left is now fully on board with this,” he continued, citing anarchists in anti-globalization riots as one of several flashpoints. “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.”.. read more:

If The BJP Is Clear The Government Can't Provide Public Goods, Why Collect Taxes?

After last week's tragedy in Gorakhpur in which 72 children died allegedly due to non-availability of oxygen at a government hospital, BJP leaders have been desperate to find excuses to defend the Uttar Pradesh government and the party itself. In its bid to whitewash the tragedy, or even cover up and deflect the blame from itself, the party has tried all kinds of unreasonable answers, but the worst came from senior BJP leader and surface transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari. According to him, its not "possible to provide professional healthcare to patients at government health facilities."

Although, he didn't specifically mention Gorakhpur, the context was too obvious. While the UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath blamed the hospital authorities and even found unlikely reasons for the sudden death of a large number of children at a single location, Gadkari tried to absolve the State of its fundamental responsibility to provide healthcare to its people. Speaking at the inauguration of the first phase of a National Cancer Institute in Nagpur, Gadkari said that the government was incapable of providing healthcare because of "various factors such as non-availability of expert doctors, skilled manpower, lack of funds and ticklish rules and regulations," adding that "as such, inviting social institutions and entrepreneurs to run such facilities on government lands provided at nominal cost would help provide professional healthcare service to poor and middle class patients."

Showing helplessness at a tragic time when the nation needed stronger assurance from the party -- that rules the centre and 18 states, and trying to expand in the rest of India -- that it's incapable in providing welfare to its people is a shocking let down. His statement, and the ground reality in Uttar Pradesh that led to the disaster, call into question the credibility of the BJP to govern. Gadkari is either completely uninformed about the role of the State in public health in a democracy, or he doesn't care. Probably he doesn't know that healthcare was Barrack Obama's single most important political agenda during the two terms of his presidency, that even Donald Trump tried to dismantle; or that a neoliberal Margaret Thatcher couldn't touch the free National Health Services (NHS) while she was privatising everything in England.

India is a country with very high tax rates -- with the imposition of the the GST, the tax burden of one with a relatively higher income could be as high as 58%. And to say that the government was unable to care for its people's health after taking away a sizeable part of their earnings as taxes is not just irresponsible, but callous. If a government cannot provide basic services such as health, water, public infrastructure and education that are inevitable for the survival of its people, why should it levy taxes at all? What does it use the money for?

As in India, there are many countries where direct and indirect taxes together can take away 50% or more of people's earnings, but most of them guarantee high-quality, free healthcare and other public utilities. Either through a directly operated public system such the NHS in England, or those in countries such as France and Canada, where the private sector does play an important part without an undue burden on the people. These countries provide Universal Health Care (UHC), a system that is cashless and available to everyone, rich or poor. Only in despotic and lawless countries, people get nothing in return for their high taxes. By Gorakhpur standards, India is certainly one of them...

Over 30 farmers commit suicide in Marathwada in 8 days, death toll since last 8 months now at 580

In the last eight days, 34 farmers committed suicide in Marathwada region of Maharashtra, a government report said on Wednesday. The region has seen below-average rainfall this monsoon so far. This report takes the total number of farmer suicides to 580 in the last eight months, according to The Times of India. At the end of July, the toll stood at 531 and has gone up to 580 in just 15 days. 

The state has 355 talukas out of which nearly 200 received less than 75 percent of the total projected rainfall for this monsoon. Data compiled by the Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner showed that 34 farmers ended their lives in eight districts of Marathwada during the last eight days, though the cause has not be ascertained in every case yet.

Beed district tops the list at 107 suicides, the report said. It also mentioned that kharif crops in the region are in trouble because of lack of rains. Farmers in Marathwada are fearing crop losses due to a dry spell of the last fortnight.

No, Mr Trump, we're not the same as the neo-Nazis. By Emily Gorcenski // The president of the USA is a neo-Nazi sympathiser. By Richard Wolffe

The president of the United States called a mob of people marching with torches and chanting Nazi slogans “very fine people.” Fine people don’t chant Nazi slogans. Fine people don’t surround and attack college students. And fine people don’t stand with those who do. I was there that night in Charlottesville. I can say with certainty that the only fine people I saw were the young students who stood outnumbered and ready to defend their campus and their beliefs against an onslaught of demagoguery.  I know some of those students. They were ready to die for what they believed in. I was prepared to die, too. A man wearing a swastika pin shouted transphobic and racist vitriol at me, inches from my face. 

The only fine people that night were those sprayed with mace and doused with lighter fluid from the torches that they were beaten with, afraid of being burned alive. Fine people don’t wear swastikas. Yet President Trump blamed both sides, despite the fact that only one side was run down by a terrorist.  I was there when the attack happened. Despite the president deeming me – a transgender woman – unfit for military service, I ran towards the attacker with a weapon. I was ready to engage him if he tried to hurt more people. I reached out to groups attending this event from the left, right, and center to urge non-violence. Meanwhile, the Unite the Right marchers said things like “we’ll fucking kill them if we have to” on camera

The president can think “both sides” are to blame as long as he wants – but only one side beat a black man nearly to death with poles in a parking garage while hurling racist insults. It wasn’t our side. So why is the president blaming us along with the neo-Nazis?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Independence Day in Gorakhpur

Dear friends, readers of this blog
Today is the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. For the past many decades (despite my critical attitude) I have always defended the democratic values embodied in our constitution and the greatness of our independence movement. And I have been clear in my opposition to hatred and violence of all kinds, whether emanating from religious fanatics, ultra patriots, or revolutionary zeal.

But today I can only think of the dead babies of Gorakhpur. All the tall talk of political leaders makes me sick. Please see these photos of the tragedy in Gorakhpur, they are heartbreaking. Little children in the last hours of their lives, suffocating to death for no fault of theirs.

Rarely do public events make me weep, but when I saw these photographs I was so upset I couldn’t sleep. The last time this happened was over the death of the raped and murdered young woman Jyoti Singh Pandey in 2012. I wept for her. And this year, the judicial murder of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo moved me intensely. Those were the tragedies of two brave persons. But this tragedy defies comprehension. Seventy-two children dead, ranging from a few days old to their teens. 

More important than political issues is the philosophical question: How can God allow babies and little children to suffocate to death? What is the point of all our prayers to the Almighty? 

In the midst of this all that the Uttar Pradesh government and the hegemons of the BJP can do is to protect their  'image'! It is so typical of their ideologues to use the word ‘unfortunate’ to describe this enormity. And to ask ‘didn’t these things happen under the Congress’? They have even indulged in their favourite pastime of communal baiting of a doctor who happens to be Muslim. These people are heartless and shameless. What in Hindi we call maryadaheen. Their much vaunted patriotism is a deceitful diversion from their lust for power. If the followers and admirers of the RSS can set aside their partisanship for five minutes, can they please exercise what remains of their conscience and ask:

What would you have said if this took place under any other government?

This comment sums it up: It is not unfortunate, sir. It is a tragedy of monumental proportions. It is an unprecedented medical savagery and defies all logic. It is horrific... The Uttar Pradesh government has the blood of 60 children on its hands. The saffron robes of its chief minister are tainted with the blot of incompetence, insensitivity and, as Noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi rightly says, the massacre of infants. In any other country run by a sensitive and competent government, these children could have been easily saved. Because they did not die of a sudden calamity or in a tragic incident that could not have been averted… 

What is the use of a magisterial enquiry? What can the magistrate even do, bring the children back to life? For sheer brutal incompetence and indifference to human life, this is a world record. Granted that the children come from modest backgrounds and their parents have no clout. They can be told, "here take the bodies home. We are so sorry, but don't make a fuss, yeh hotha hai."

The 1980 filmed version of A Tale of Two Cities opens with the coach of a French nobleman running over a poor child and trampling it to death. The aristocrat inside the coach reacts with irritation at this minor nuisance. Before ordering his coachman to drive off, he throws a coin from his window at the bereaved father holding the little corpse in his arms.

The children of the poor are just dirt for these rulers. 
So was it in France in 1789. So it is in India today. 

Jai Hind


PS - Here is a poem by a doctor:

Then they reached, seventy of them,
In shrouds as white as the lilies of the field.
They cried, they wailed, they gasped for air,
Their caring moms left behind.
A man with a skin made from light,
His gentle look and the magic wand.
He tried his best to make them smile,
His tricks failed, his magic wanting.
It all but failed to make them beam,
The little angels still searched for their moms.
And then there came a group as white as their shrouds,
A group led by an old man with no teeth.
He had no teeth but his smile was sweet,
As sweet as mother’s love.
His naked chest bore three holes, full of light,
White and soft, a light of hope. 
And along with him came an old lady,
Her wrinkled skin was clear like truth.
She wore a white sari with a blue border,
And they all called her mother.
The old man with a chest of light jested with the tiny angels,
And the mother put them to sleep, one by one.
She sang a lullaby from the years gone by,
And then the seventy of them slept in peace.
Their tiny chest not wanting for air,
Their cold hands not searching for moms.
In shrouds as white as the lilies of the field

- Shah Alam Khan

India’s dismal record in healthcare New research by ‘Lancet’ shows India ranks 154 out of 195 countries in terms of access to healthcare, which is worse than Bangladesh, Nepal, Ghana and Liberia

Monday, August 14, 2017

The decline of idealism

NB: Outlook asked me to write an article on 'the decline of idealism', with a focus on the Left. Here is what I wrote - it has appeared in the current issue under the title The Idea and its Mutant - DS

Before discussing the idealism of the Left, it would be a good idea to think about what we mean by these terms. Let us start with the second one – is there any such thing as ‘the Left’? If the term refers to a political monolith, clearly the answer is no. The international communist monolith broke up decades ago and today even the fragments are fragmented. The Naxalite movement began with an attempt to build a party, its proponents were squabbling bitterly even prior to the birth of the CPI (ML); and the claimants to the ultra-left tradition in India number in the scores.

As to the first term, idealism in its philosophical sense means either that reality is mental (that the world is a construction of the mind); or that reality is permeated by structures of thought, and so all truth is an individual perspective. In everyday usage, idealism refers to forming and/or pursuing ideals; and it can be combined with a sense of impracticality, as in ‘starry-eyed idealist’. There was indeed a time when philosophical idealism was connected to idealism in the popular sense of progressive and optimistic social thought. The problem today is that if idealism implies a commit-ment to principle, we are obliged to ask – which principle? And if it refers to progressive optimism, again, what is meant by these terms? If it’s a question of nobility, how may we judge what is noble? These questions cannot be answered with any certainty, yet they remain a major concern for us.
The Left and leftism: The term ‘Left’ originated with the French Revolution.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Woman Linked to 1955 Emmett Till Murder Tells Historian Her Claims Were False

For six decades, she has been the silent woman linked to one of the most notorious crimes in the nation’s history, the lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy, keeping her thoughts and memories to herself as millions of strangers idealized or vilified her. But all these years later, a historian says that the woman has broken her silence, and acknowledged that the most incendiary parts of the story she and others told about Emmett — claims that seem tame today but were more than enough to get a black person killed in Jim Crow-era Mississippi — were false.

The woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, spoke to Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University professor — possibly the only interview she has given to a historian or journalist since shortly after the episode — who has written a book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” to be published next week. In it, he wrote that she said of her long-ago allegations that Emmett grabbed her and was menacing and sexually crude toward her, “that part is not true.” The revelations were first reported on Friday by Vanity Fair.
As a matter of narrow justice, it makes little difference; true or not, her claims did not justify any serious penalty, much less death.

The two white men who were accused of murdering Emmett in 1955 — and later admitted it in a Look Magazine interview — were acquitted that year by an all-white, all-male jury, and so could not be retried. They and others suspected of involvement in the killing died long ago.
Emmett Till was 14 when he was killed in 1955. AP

But among thousands of lynchings of black people, this one looms large in the country’s tortured racial history, taught in history classes to schoolchildren, and often cited as one of the catalysts for the civil rights movement. Photographs in Jet Magazine of Emmett’s gruesomely mutilated body — at a funeral that his mother insisted have an open coffin, to show the world what his killers had done — had a galvanizing effect on black America.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trump is the real nuclear threat, and we can’t just fantasise him away - Jonathan Freedland

Among the many terrifying facts that have emerged in the last several days, perhaps the scariest relate to the nuclear button over which now hovers the finger of Donald Trump. It turns out that, of all the powers held by this or any other US president, the least checked or balanced is his authority over the world’s mightiest arsenal. He exercises this awesome, civilisation-ending power alone.

As Trump has learned in recent months, the man in the Oval Office cannot simply issue a decree changing, say, the US healthcare system. He has to build majorities in the House and Senate, which is harder than it looks. If he wants to change immigration policy, a mere order is not enough. He can be stopped by the courts, as Trump saw with his travel ban. But if he wants to rain fire and fury on a distant enemy, bringing more fire and fury down on his own citizens and many hundreds of millions of others, there is no one standing in his way. Not for nothing does the geopolitical literature refer to the US president as the “nuclear monarch.”

The more you hear of the simplicity of the system, the more frightening it becomes. If Trump decides he has had enough of Kim Jong-un’s verbal threats, he merely has to turn to the low-level military aide at his side and ask them to open up the black briefcase that officer keeps permanently in their grasp. The bag is known as the nuclear “football”. (It gets its name from the code word for the very first set of nuclear war plans: dropkick.) Inside the bag is a menu of options, explained in detail in a “black book,” but also set out in a single, cartoon-like page for speedy comprehension. Trump has only to make his choice, pick up the phone to the Pentagon war room, utter the code words that identify him as the president and give the order. That’s it.

There is no need for consultation with anyone else. Not the secretary of state or the secretary of defence, nor the head of the military. The officer who receives the call at the Pentagon has no authority to question or challenge the order. His or her duty is only to implement it. Thirty minutes after the president gave the instruction, the nuclear missiles would be hitting their targets. There is no way of turning them back. Such power in the hands of a single individual would be a horrifying prospect even if it were Solomon himself whose finger was on the trigger. But as Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer, and seasoned military analyst wrote during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s “quick temper, defensiveness bordering on paranoia and disdain for anyone who criticises him do not inspire deep confidence in his prudence.”

What’s more, Trump is the man who said in 2015, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me,” and who bellowed from the campaign podium, “I love war”. In last year’s election campaign, the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough reported on a briefing a foreign policy expert had given Trump. “Three times, he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, we can’t we use them?’ … Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?’”

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Nazir Masoodi - For First Time, A Kashmir Shutdown In Support Of Indian Constitution

Today, there was a complete shutdown in Kashmir against any attempt to strike down Article 35A of the Constitution which defines Permanent Residents of the state and prevents outsiders from buying and owning property in the state. This is the first time that Kashmir has observed a shutdown to protect a provision of the Constitution of India. On the face of it, this is a huge departure from Kashmir's predominant separatism which doesn't recognise the Indian Constitution. In the last 28 years of the separatist movement, different groups have called for over 2,200 days of shutdown - totaling 6 years- for Azadi and a plebiscite.

Transcending the ideological divide, Article 35A has brought the mainstream, separatists and all other sections of society together on a common cause. The issue is that Article 35A is considered the bedrock of the special status promised to Kashmir. An NGO backed by right-wing groups has challenged it on the grounds that it violates the fundamental rights of citizens of India including owning property and the right to reside and settle in any part of the country.

Separatists are using the issue to drive home the point that Kashmir's accession to the union of India by Maharajah Hari Singh on October 26, 1947 was not in the interest of Kashmir and the challenge to the validity of the provision underscores the fragility of constitutional guarantees given to the people of Kashmir. For mainstream political parties, who are confronting their biggest ever crisis these days, leaders are unsure if they can continue as mainstream (pro-India ) politicians if the Supreme Court strikes down the law... read more:

More posts on Kashmir

Gorakhpur hospital deaths: Oxygen supply to resume tonight after Adityanath govt makes partial payment

NB: This is India, 70 years after Independence, whose government takes special pride in patriotic zeal. There is is ample evidence that the tragic deaths of over 70 children was due to oxygen deprivation; yet government officials are denying that oxygen had anything to do with it. Those obsessed with their 'image' treat even the most tragic reality as a political football, then tell others not to 'politicise it'. What would the BJP have said had this occurred under another government? 

This is criminal negligence on the part of a vicious and inept government more concerned with protecting cow vigilantes from police action than with the lives of hospital patients. As this writer says: What is the use of a magisterial enquiry? What can the magistrate even do, bring the children back to life? For sheer brutal incompetence and indifference to human life, this is a world record. Granted that the children come from modest backgrounds and their parents have no clout. They can be told, "here take the bodies home. We are so sorry, but don't make a fuss, yeh hotha hai." DS

Images of the tragedy (Indian Express)
UP health minister Siddharth Nath Singh says death of infants is unfortunate

Oxygen supply to resume tonight after Adityanath govt makes partial payment
The supply of oxygen to a tragedy-struck Gorakhpur hospital will resume on Saturday night after the government-run institution partially cleared its dues, following nationwide outrage over the deaths of 30 children allegedly of lack of oxygen. Officials at Lucknow-based Pushpa Sales, the biggest of three oxygen suppliers to Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur, said a truck full of oxygen cylinders would reach the hospital by night and that Rs 21 lakh had been credited to the firm.
The company – which was the only one supplying liquid oxygen to the hospital -- allegedly cut off supplies on August 1 after authorities defaulted on payment of Rs 68 lakh... read more:

Clear dues or we stop oxygen supply: Gas company’s Aug 8 letter to Gorakhpur BRD Medical college

The government denied that any ofthe deaths had been caused due to shortage of oxygen
Gorakhpur District Magistrate Rajeev Rautela said: “No death in BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur, has taken place due to shortage of oxygen supply. Only seven deaths have taken place at the BRD Medical College today and these were due to different medical reasons.” “As far as the complaint regarding non-payment of dues to the company supplying the oxygen is concerned, it is a matter of inquiry. But there was existing alternative arrangement of 50 oxygen cylinders which was being used, so there was no shortage of oxygen,” he said. The government denied that any of the deaths had been caused due to shortage of oxygen since the hospital had made arrangements.

When it comes to public spending on healthcare, India lags behind abysmally. Research by medical journal Lancet showed that India ranked 154 out of 195 countries in terms of healthcare access, far behind countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Ghana and Liberia. India spends only 5 percent of its GDP on public healthcare while China spends 10.4 percent of its budget on healthcare. India is even superseded by Uzbekistan (10.7 percent), Tanzania (12.3) percent, Kenya (12.8 percent), and Nicaragua (24 percent).

APOORVANAND - Jharkhand Government Is Misusing Gandhi, Public Funds to Fuel Anti-Christian Hate

Mahatma Gandhi has a new job. Three years after he was appointed as the brand ambassador of the Swatchta Abhiyan of the government of India, he has now been deployed as the chief spokesman and mascot of the Jharkhand government anti-conversion drive. The government of Jharkhand and the BJP crossed yet another rubicon when it published a full page advertisement in all the newspapers with a quote from Gandhi denouncing Christian missionaries for their act of conversion and prosely-tising among Adivasis and Dalits. 

The quotation, with a smiling Gandhi walking with a stick in his hand, is misleading and mischievous. It is erroneous and puts words in Gandhi’s mouth that are not his. Let us see the advertisement first. It is published by the government of Jharkhand and carries the photograph of the chief minister. It is in Hindi and begins with the declaration, “An intiative to realise the dream of Bhagwan Birsa Munda and the late Kartik Uraon.” The quotation attributed to Gandhi says,

“If Christian missionaries feel that only conversion to Christianity is the path to salvation, why don’t you start with me or Mahadev Desai? Why do you stress on conversion of the simple, illiterate, poor and forest-dwellers? These people can’t differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not likely to understand your preachings. They are mute and simple, like cows. These simple, poor, Dalit and forest-dwellers, whom you make Christians, do so not for Jesus but for rice and their stomach.”

Let us leave Gandhi aside for a moment. Irrespective of what he said or felt, this government and the chief minister must withdraw the advertisement and apologise to the Christians of Jharkhand and India as it directly targets Christian religious institutions. This misuse of the state apparatus to attack a section of society is so brazen and blatant that it takes your breath away. Christians, including the missionaries among them, are legitimate citizens of this country and pay their taxes. 

This advertisement is funded by the state, which means that suspicion, malice and hatred against the Christians is being created using their own money. As if they are being made to dig their own grave.
It would have been perfectly in order for the advertisement to have been issued by the RSS or its affiliates because one knows their animosity towards Christians and Muslims. But the state, even when governed by the RSS’s political arm, the BJP, cannot do such a thing.

Secondly and more importantly, the state government is humiliating India’s Adivasis and Dalits by terming them as mute, ignorant and simpletons who have no mind of their own, even when it uses a figure like Gandhi to mouth its bias. Gandhi as an individual is entitled to his view of the Adivasis and Dalits and would have to answer his critics and defend himself, but the state cannot hold, leave alone publicly display, such a paternalistic and patronising approach towards two sections of society who are otherwise deemed intelligent enough to elect their government. By endorsing Gandhi’s view in this matter, the BJP government of Jharkhand is demonstrating that it believes it is the guardian of the eternally ‘juvenile’ tribals and Dalits.

But first let us understand the immediate context of the advertisement. It comes in the wake of a recent move by the state government to enact a Bill criminalising conversion. And this move itself should also be seen as a tactic to deflect the popular anger against the government for making changes in the core principles of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act. The church was with the people of Jharkhand in protesting the government’s move to dilute the rights of the tribals over their lands. Since then, it has been on the radar of the government and the BJP... read more:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Christopher Kissane: ‘Historical myopia is to blame for the attacks on Mary Beard’

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past 
George Orwell, 1984

On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, historian Mary Beard calls for an end to the trivialisation of the lessons of the past

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther sparked a movement of Reformation that would leave indelible marks on European history. While some have used this anniversary as an opportunity for reflection, and others a chance to heal old wounds, 2017 finds us in an age of intense historical myopia. Breathless news cycles and furious outrage are shrinking our horizons just as they need to widen. Public debate barely remembers the world of last year, “old news”, let alone that of a decade or few ago.

History’s expertise, and most dangerously its perspective, are being lost in our inability to look beyond the here and now. We stumble into crises of finance and inequality with ignorance of economic history, and forget even the recent background to our current politics. We fail to think in the long term and miss a growing environmental catastrophe. We refuse help to millions of refugees by turning away from our own history. As technology and globalisation bring the world closer together, we have narrowed rather than broadened our perspective. With challenges on many fronts, history needs to be at the heart of how we think about our ever-changing world.

Instead, history’s prominence in Britain is too often reduced to a seemingly endless parade of Tudors, Victorians and the second world war. When history does appear in public debate, it is generally in the form of facile analogies, from all manner of centenary comparisons to the first world war to the Reformation, as “the first Brexit” or “this generation’s Dunkirk”. Such lazy attempts to equate the present and the past are actively misleading, a pointless parlour game that crowds out the vital role of history in understanding current affairs. Instead of examining the historical trends in American economy and culture that have produced Trump, we ask if he is “the new Hitler”.

The renaissance of populist nationalism embodied by Trump has been built on mythic history, the lie that “the good old days” have been lost. Brexit springs from a nation where most still see centuries of rapacious and oppressive empire as “a good thing”, its complicated histories and harsh realities actively ignored. Just this week, Cambridge historian Mary Beard has received vitriolic abuse for defending the historical consensus that there was diversity in Roman Britain, while teaching the long history of migration to Britain was branded “disturbing” and “dangerous” by rightwing commentators. Glorious ignorance is the ideology of the nation’s drift to isolation… read more: