Monday, April 23, 2018

World's first ocean plastic-cleaning machine set to tackle Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Scientists are preparing to launch the world's first machine to clean up the planet's largest mass of ocean plastic. The system, originally dreamed up by a teenager, will be shipped out this summer to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California, and which contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. 

It will be the first attempt to tackle the patch since it was discovered in 1997. The experts believe the machine should be able to collect half of the detritus in the patch – about 40,000 metric tons – within five years. In the past few weeks they have been busy welding together giant tubes that will sit on the surface of the sea and form the skeleton of the machine, creating the largest floating barrier ever made. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) spans 617,763 sq miles - more than twice the size of France, and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, research found last month.

Most of it is made up of “ghost gear” – parts of abandoned and lost fishing gear, such as nets and ropes – often from illegal fishing vessels. Ghost gear kills more than 100,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year, according to scientific surveys. Seabirds and other marine life are increasingly being found dead with stomachs full of small pieces of plastic. Creatures eat plastic discarded in the sea thinking it’s food but then starve to death because they are not feeding properly.

Others are trapped and die of starvation or are strangled or suffocated by ghost gear. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year, according to the US-based Plastic Oceans Foundation. Up to 90 per cent of the world’s plastic items are never recycled, and scientists believe nearly every piece ever created is still in existence somewhere, in some form, with most going into landfill or the environment. Single-use plastic, such as water bottles and nappies, take 450 years to break down… read more:


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Master Of The Roster: Shanti Bhushan’s Petition Points To Ten Instances Of Chief Justice Dipak Misra “Hand-Picking Benches”. By KAUSHAL SHROFF

“One reason why the impeachment motion is important is because of the serious danger which emerges from the CJI being blackmailed by the government via the medical college bribery case.... The abuse of power by the CJI as the master of roster poses a serious threat to the democracy as the entire Supreme Court is being controlled by the government” : Prashant Bhushan

Times are tough for the chief justice of India. On 20 April, 64 members of parliament from seven opposition parties submitted a petition to Venkaiah Naidu, the vice president and chairman of the Rajya Sabha, seeking the removal of Dipak Misra as the chief justice. The move marks the first time in India’s judicial history that an attempt has been made to remove a sitting chief justice of the country. Concurrently, the Supreme Court is presently hearing a petition filed by Shanti Bhushan, a senior advocate and a former union law minister, concerning serious allegations about the allocation of cases by the chief justice and the registry. The petition notes that the manner of allocation clearly reflects “a pattern of favouritism, nepotism, and forum shopping.”

Misra assumed the office of chief justice in late August last year, and within three months, the differences between sections of the bar and the bench became evident, particularly during a hearing in a case concerning corruption allegations against two benches of the Supreme Court. Both benches included Misra. In his order dismissing the case - popularly termed the medical college bribery case
- Misra stated that the chief justice “alone is the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the Benches of the Court and allocate cases to the Benches so constituted.” Soon after, differences emerged within members of the bench as well—in January this year, four senior judges of the Supreme Court held an unprecedented press conference to register their concerns about the manner in which the court assigned cases “selectively to ‘benches of their preference’ without any rational basis.”

Shanti Bhushan’s petition is listed for hearing before a bench comprising AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, on 27 April. With the petition and the motion for Misra’s removal, the concerns over Misra’s allotment of cases have again come under the spotlight. The petition claims that while listing cases, the chief justice places “matters of general public importance and/or political sensitivity before only certain benches.” Kamini Jaiswal, an advocate in the Supreme Court, said the motion to remove Misra was “necessary.” “Things are moving from bad to worse,” she added. “I have been in the Supreme Court for over 30 years and I have never seen the Supreme Court so low.” The advocate Prashant Bhushan said, “One reason why the impeachment motion is important is because of the serious danger which emerges from the CJI being blackmailed by the government via the medical college bribery case.” He added, “The abuse of power by the CJI as the master of roster poses a serious threat to the democracy as the entire Supreme Court is being controlled by the government.”

In his petition, Shanti Bhushan seeks to allay these fears by requesting directions from the court regarding an adherence to certain rules of procedure while allocating cases. The petition argues that the “master of roster” cannot be an “unguided and unbridled discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India by hand-picking benches of select Judges or by assigning cases to particular Judges.” It further states that the authority of the chief justice as the “master of roster is not an absolute, arbitrary, singular power” and that it “must necessarily be exercised by him in consultation with the senior judges of the Supreme Court.” The petition also lists a series of cases that it alleges “reflects and establishes the gross abuse of powers.” Ten such cases from the petition, and the allegations relating to them, are listed below: read more:
http://www.caravanmagazine.in/vantage/dipak-misra-motion-removal-shanti-bhushans-petition-ten-instances-hand-picking-benches

see also
Mecca Masjid blast case: Aseemanand acquitted, along with RSS man convicted for Ajmer blast

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hans-Jürgen Krahl (1943-1970)

For Anglophone readers, Hans-Jürgen Krahl’s name is most distinctive as a marker for a possible alternative path within the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research.

Hans-Jürgen Krahl | Personal Information
The anti-authoritarian revolt was precisely a process of Marxist training, in which we have gradually detached from bourgeois ideologies, in which we have revealed the purely ideological character of its promises of liberation, and definitively understood that the classic forms of liberalism and emancipation, which still drive the liberal capitalism of competition, have definitively passed away. We have understood that now, in the struggle against the state, against bourgeois justice, and against the organized power of capital, in a long and certainly difficult process, it is a matter of conquering conditions that allow us to enter into organized contact with the working class and to create the historical pressures necessary for the education of class consciousness. It was a long process of education which also had to impose itself within the SDS.

The task for intellectuals is not to propagate the revolution from the outside, but to develop emancipatory needs which go beyond work—an emancipatory consciousness of the totality. In 1969, the world in Europe still seemed so open, the Italian Hot Autumn and the September strikes in Germany made such a task seem appropriate.

Subjectivity is never identical, then, with subjection. Insofar as it emerges out of a fractured social synthesis, subjectivity virtually extends the possibility of an antagonistic constitution, of a different social and productive synthesis; in short, the structural mutations of the proletariat and the determinate possibilities of its organization need to be incorporated within Critical Theory.

[Krahl’s] use of Marx is not only a weapon against reformism, but also against the practice of many extra-parliamentary groups which emerged following the dissolution of the SDS. Krahl’s rereading of Marx intended to wrest him away from groups who sought to legitimate their own practice by appealing to a Marxist theory isolated from the historico-political context. Krahl contested the abstract character of the positions taken by those who assumed their own actions for the proletariat as a declaration of faith, a ritual of self-confirmation in absence of a real revolutionary class.

1968 therefore expresses a radical change of the processes of antagonistic subjectivation, and consequently a major change in the composition of the productive subject. Krahl knew how to grasp this nexus, cultivated in many experiences of heretical European Marxism, in his own way: cultural labor is increasingly determined as common, salaried, alienated, and exploitative by industry. From this major premise, what follows is the refusal of the traditional figure of the committed intellectual, by now inscribed in a trajectory of progressive proletarianization.

For both Krahl and Panzieri, the massive introduction of technology into the capitalist mode of production must not be seen as a sign of the advent of the final phase of capitalism, but, on the contrary, as the expression of this mode of production’s capability for greater exploitation, an increase in real subsumption. The movement of the decomposition of antagonistic subjectivity corresponds, with disturbing symmetry, to the increase in the organic composition of capital. The idea of a final stage of capitalism should be considered a “mythology.”

Strategically, subjectivity reminds us that no preconceived revolutionary recipe is possible, that no mechanism exists behind the revolution, that, in the last instance, there is a concrete enemy to depose. And that this task belongs to proletarians, no matter whether they work in material or immaterial production.



Emma Briant: I’ve seen inside the digital propaganda machine. And it’s dark in there

British electoral consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL Group, continue to be dogged by a series of allegations, weeks after a whistleblower told the Observer that data had been harvested from Facebook by an academic research company called Global Science Research, which then licensed SCL to use the data. As an expert in propaganda, I conducted interviews with key figures at SCL, Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU for research projects on the Trump and Brexit campaigns long before the data scandal was made public.

It has been claimed that Cambridge Analytica was involved in the Brexit campaign and that the firm allegedly used unethical methods to help sway international elections. Cambridge Analytica and SCL have denied any wrongdoing. Leave.EU says Cambridge Analytica “has never carried out any work on behalf of Leave.EU”. However, the data scandal continues to engulf the firm. The Conservative MP Damian Collins, who is the chair of the cross-party digital, culture, media and sport committee currently scrutinising “fake news”, has said that the story – which led to Facebook’s boss, Mark Zuckerberg, recently being grilled by US lawmakers – is “only in the foothills”, and is a broader global issue. Because of my expertise, I was recently asked by the UK’s Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the digital, culture, media and sport committee to submit evidence relating to electoral campaigns by Cambridge Analytica, SCL and others who were involved in the campaigns.

I researched SCL’s war-on-terror work for my book on propaganda and counter-terrorism, for which I conducted numerous in-depth interviews. Over the years I was able to build up enough contacts to place me in a rare position to gain access to interviews on the 2016 US election for another new book about media bias and the rise of Trump, co-authored with professor Robert M Entman of the George Washington University. I have also been working on research and publications about the EU referendum. I was alarmed by what my research uncovered, and it was both a matter of personal conscience and public responsibility as an academic to provide information to the various inquiries and investigations that are now under way.

Statements from my research – which includes interviews with staff at Cambridge Analytica and SCL personnel, and documents they gave me, alongside essays contextualising and discussing what I found – have now been published by the fake news inquiry. My evidence also  includes transcripts
from my interviews with representatives at SCL, Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/20/cambridge-analytica-propaganda-machine


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.
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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.