Weekend Edition

April 29th, 2016

Pakistan is again numero uno

April 29th, 2016

by B. R. GOWANI

IMAGE/Pew Research Center

Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, was a very enlightened man
who had, for his nation, a democratic and secular plan
his design, due to his short life, he couldn’t carry out
and so the country started sliding towards a gutter route

feudal lords, bureaucrats, army, Islamists grabbed power
leading, rather pushing, the country into a state dour
then it a became a university of jahiliya and terrors
which produces uncivilized, savage, ferocious, bearers

as if trying to stay on top of everything that is bad
most of the people have either gone or are acting mad
they think Islam is the solution of each/every concern
so for Qur’anic teaching and laws, 78 percent yearn

most of the Pakistanis think that their religion is right
and the Islamists mislead them that their future is bright
Islam, Qur’an, Allah, Muhammad leads a nation nowhere
its’ education, secular values, technology that takes care

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Canadian capitalism and the subjugation and decimation of the indigenous population (book review)

April 29th, 2016

by JANET BROWNING

A group of children from St. Paul’s School in Cardston, Alberta: For over a century, the Canadian state sponsored a program in which indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to church-run residential schools, where they were abused and humiliated.

Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk

James Daschuk, an academic at the University of Regina, has produced a study on the health of Canada’s indigenous people up to and including the nineteenth century. Clearing the Plains provides a devastating indictment of Canadian capitalism’s subjugation and decimation of the Native Indian (First Nations) population on the country’s western plains—the modern-day Prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

Daschuk’s study, which is based on extensive archival research, is aimed at identifying the roots of the stark health disparity between the current-day indigenous and non-indigenous populations of western Canada. At the beginning of Clearing the Plains, Daschuk notes that on average, indigenous Canadians can expect to die between five and eight years earlier than other Canadians. He sets out to confirm that the deliberate economic and cultural marginalization of indigenous people by the Canadian capitalist state is the primary factor impeding improved health outcomes for First Nations people.

The book divides the history of indigenous people’s health into two periods:

1. Before 1869, when the spread of “virgin soil epidemics,” such as tuberculosis, smallpox, whooping cough and scarlet fever, constituted a tragic, unforeseen, but largely organic, change driven by the expansion of trade and increased contact with Europeans; and

2. After December 1869, when, with the purchase of the “Hudson Bay lands” by the recently established Dominion of Canada, the Canadian bourgeoisie and its state mounted a concerted drive to impose capitalist relations based on private property on Canada’s Great Plains. This led to a systematic policy of marginalizing the indigenous population and forcing them off their land, through violence, chicanery, and the deliberate withholding of food—that is, starvation.

Daschuk’s research reveals that in the first period of colonization, indigenous people on the Plains generally enjoyed good health. Indeed, they were observed to be larger than Europeans at the time of initial contact. This was no doubt due to their high protein diet, which was mainly based on the consumption of bison.

European explorers and traders brought smallpox and measles. These and other infectious diseases had a devastating impact because the Native population had no previous exposure to them, hence the term “virgin soil diseases.” As trade spread across the continent, indigenous communities were ravaged by disease, badly disrupting their patterns of life, resulting in food shortages, weakened immune systems, and still greater depopulation.

Daschuk spends the first five chapters of his work dealing with the historical period from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, including the fur wars that commenced in the 1780s, and the subsequent period of the Hudson Bay Company’s monopoly over modern-day Western Canada. The remaining four chapters, upon which this review will concentrate, deal with the period following the 1867 merger of the largest British North American colonies into the Dominion of Canada.

The decline of the fur trade and the relentless expansion of capitalism in the St. Lawrence Valley-Great Lakes region buoyed by Britain’s need for foodstuffs, wood and other resources products and by the transfer of impoverished crofters (tenant-farmers) and artisans from Europe to the “New World” pushed colonial settlement and land appropriation ever deeper into the hunting grounds of the indigenous peoples. As in Australasia, the subjugation and dispossession of the Native peoples of North America arose out of the objective logic of capitalist expansion and the incompatibility of capitalist private property and the exploitation of wage-labour with communal forms of property and social organization.

World Socialist Web Site for more

Professor instills ‘Chinese virtues’ in service robot

April 29th, 2016

by ZHANG YU

Jiajia looks lifelike wearing a dress and a shawl. Sitting on the left is its creator professor Chen Xiaoping PHOTO/CFP

With her fair skin, rosy cheeks and wide eyes, you can easily mistake Jiajia for a beautiful woman. But once she starts to speak, you’d realize that she’s a humanoid robot.

Jiajia, the fembot that was unveiled this month at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei, Anhui Province, impressed crowds with her human features. Jiajia can speak, move her lips, respond to questions and show a limited number of expressions.

Jiajia is the brainchild of 61-year-old Chen Xiaoping, professor at the university’s computer science department, and his colleagues. The Global Times talked to him about his experience in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and the story behind Jiajia.

Following footsteps

While the field of AI research started in the US in the 1950s, it took off much later in China. Until the early 1990s, it was an idea that was so ahead of time that it was rather neglected. Most Chinese computer scientists focused on either computation theory, a field in which it was easier to make academic achievements, or software coding, which had more practical and commercial value.

Chen had initially focused on computation theory. But he chose to shift to AI.

“I was really interested in it, and I had this belief that it would one day become meaningful,” he said.

The Internet was a new thing in the 1990s, and access to new ideas and information was much more limited than today. To follow the latest academic progress on AI, Chen visited Beijing for several months every year, spending most of his time in the then Beijing Library and the library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where the latest papers about science and technology could be found. But even these papers were far from up-to-date and many were written one to two years prior.

Just like most Chinese scientists back then, Chen said he initially focused on the specific theoretical problems that Western scientists couldn’t work out. This proved fruitful, at least academically. In 1999, during the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, the main international gathering of AI researchers, Chen’s paper “A logic of intention” was the only paper by a Chinese scientist that was presented and published in the proceedings of the conference.

While he started to gain international recognition, Chen felt focusing on these theoretical issues wasn’t the path to technological advancements.

Global Times for more

“Now the writing starts”: An interview with Adonis

April 28th, 2016

by JONATHAN GUYER

Syrian poet/essayist Ali Ahmad Said Esber, popularly known as Adonis or Adunis, 2016 PHOTO/Jonathan Guyer

In the Arab world, they say, everyone is a poet. And everyone knows Adonis, the Paris-based Syrian exile who invented the Arabic prose poem and who has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Since 2011, he has also been a controversial figure in the debate about the war in Syria. As the Syrian uprising began in early 2011, Arab intellectuals awaited Adonis’s comment, not only because of his stature as a poet but also because he is Alawite, the sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs. In June of that year, Adonis wrote an open letter to al-Assad, calling for a democratic transition. Yet the Assad regime had already killed some 1,400 civilians, and many criticized Adonis’s response as too little, too late.

Now eighty-six, Adonis has elaborated his views about the failure of the Arab Spring in a regular column in verse for the Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, and in a recent book, Violence et Islam. It was released in France in November, the same month as ISIS’s rampage in Paris that killed 130 people.

I met Adonis at a cafe on the Champs-Élysées.

Jonathan Guyer: At the beginning of the Syrian war you wrote a letter to President Bashar al-Assad. What would you say to him now?

Adonis: Nothing has changed. On the contrary, the problems are bigger. How can forty countries ally against ISIS for two years and not be able to do a thing? Nothing will change unless there is a separation between religion and the state. If we do not distinguish between what is religious and what is political, cultural, and social, nothing will change and the decline of the Arabs will worsen. Religion is not the answer to problems anymore. Religion is the cause of problems. That is why it needs to be separated. Every free human believes in what he wants, and we should respect that. But for religion to be the foundation of society? No.

When was the last time you visited Syria?

In 2010.

Before the war. Can you talk about the atmosphere then?

I don’t know—I hear the news, just like you. I know that Syria was destroyed, but for what? What is the project? Look, the revolutionary must protect his country. He fights the regime, but defends institutions. I heard that Aleppo’s markets were totally destroyed. This wealth was like no other, how do they destroy it? The revolutionary does not loot museums. The revolutionary does not kill a human because he is Christian, Alawite, or Druze. The revolutionary does not deport a whole population, like the Yazidis. Is this a revolution? Why does the West support it?

Your views on the Syrian conflict have drawn criticism in the Arab world.

You know, there are many Arabs who are employed by the revolutionaries and they always criticize me. They say that I am not with the revolution—[the revolution] that destroyed the museums.

What is the revolution and who is with it?

Something that cannot be said…A writer can never be on the side of killing. It is not possible, you know. But some people love killing and violence. How can a poet or a painter be on the [same] side as a person with an explosive belt who goes into a school and detonates himself? How? Those are children. How, how do you kill them? It is an unimaginable monstrosity. My brother, if the regime is tyrannical then fight the regime. Do not fight children and schools. Do not destroy the country. Do not kill innocent people. Fight the regime. It is humiliating. To belong to this world is humiliating. I have not seen anything like this in history, to destroy a country entirely—like Yemen—just to put in place an imbecile as president…

The New York Review of Books for more

The Cuban people will overcome

April 28th, 2016

by FIDEL CASTRO

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro PHOTO/© Desmond Boylan/Reuters/Russia Today

It constitutes a superhuman effort to lead any people in times of crisis. Without them, the changes would be impossible. In a meeting such as this, which brings together more than a thousand representatives chosen by the revolutionary people themselves, who delegated their authority to them, for all it represents the greatest honor they have received in their lives, to which is added the privilege of being a revolutionary which is the product of our own consciousness

Why did I become a socialist, or more plainly, why did I become a communist? That word that expresses the most distorted and maligned concept in history by those who have the privilege of exploiting the poor, dispossessed ever since they were deprived of all the material wealth that work, talent and human energy provide. Since when does man live in this dilemma, throughout time without limit. I know you do not need this explanation but perhaps some listeners do.

I speak simply so it is better understood that I am not ignorant, extremist, or blind, nor did I acquire my ideology of my own accord studying economics.

I did not have a tutor when I was a law and political sciences student, subjects in which they have a great influence. Of course then I was around 20 years old and was fond of sports and mountain climbing. Without a tutor to help me in the study of Marxism-Leninism; I was no more than a theorist and, of course, had total confidence in the Soviet Union. Lenin’s work violated after 70 years of Revolution. What a history lesson! It can be affirmed that it should not take another 70 years before another event like the Russian Revolution occurs, in order that humanity have another example of a magnificent social revolution that marked a huge step in the struggle against colonialism and its inseparable companion, imperialism.

Perhaps, however, the greatest danger hanging over the earth today derives from the destructive power of modern weaponry which could undermine the peace of the planet and make human life on earth’s surface impossible.

The species would disappear like the dinosaurs disappeared, perhaps there will be time for new forms of intelligent life or maybe the sun’s heat will grow until it melts all the planets of the solar system and its satellites, as a large number of scientists recognize. If the theories of several of them are true, which we laypeople are not unaware of, the practical man must learn more and adapt to reality. If the species survives a much longer space of time the future generations will know much more than we do, but first they will have to solve a huge problem. How to feed the billions of human beings whose realities are inevitably at odds with the limited drinking water and natural resources they need?

Counterpunch for more

Should you wear underwear to bed?

April 28th, 2016

by CARI NIERENBERG

PHOTO/Photographee.eu/Shutterstock.com

Some people like to wear pajamas to bed, while others go for shorts and a T-shirt. Still others prefer to sleep in nothing at all.

For those who choose to wear something, there is yet another decision to be made before bedtime: Should you keep your underwear on or not?

Live Science recently posed this question to a few medical experts to find out whether there are any health-related reasons for men and women to choose for or against underwear in bed. Here is what the experts said.

 

In general, a woman’s bottom and genital region don’t need to be totally in the buff while she sleeps, said Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Mount Kisco, New York, and a clinical assistant professor of OB/GYN at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Most women can sleep with their underwear on and not risk encountering any health problems, she told Live Science. [5 Myths About Women's Bodies]

But there is one group of women who may benefit from not wearing underwear to bed and from aerating their bottom at night: Women who suffer from chronic vulvitis (an inflammation of the folds of skin outside the vagina) or chronic vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina), Dweck said. These women are prone to vaginal yeast infections, itchiness and irritation, and are likely better off if they sleep without underpants, she said.

The reason Dweck recommends being bare-bottomed at night is because yeast and bacteria can thrive and proliferate in dark, moist and warm places, she said. When a woman’s private parts are covered up all day by confining clothing and nonbreathable fabrics, including sweaty workout clothes or sanitary pads, it can cause vaginal irritation and moisture to collect in this area, providing a perfect breeding ground for yeast or bacterial infections, Dweck said.

Live Science for more

Crisis in Brazil

April 27th, 2016

by PERRY ANDERSON

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at the UN general assembly before telling reporters her impeachment is a modern day coup PHOTO/Carlo Allegri/Reuters/The Guardian

The BRIC countries are in trouble. For a season the dynamos of international growth while the West was mired in the worst financial crisis and recession since the Depression, they are now the leading source of anxiety in the headquarters of the IMF and the World Bank. China, above all, because of its weight in the global economy: slowing output and a himalaya of debt. Russia: under siege, oil prices falling and sanctions biting. India: holding up best, but unsettling statistical revisions. South Africa: in free fall. Political tensions are rising in each: Xi and Putin battening down unrest with force, Modi thrashed at the polls, Zuma disgraced within his own party. Nowhere, however, have economic and political crises fused so explosively as in Brazil, whose streets have in the past year seen more protesters than the rest of the world combined.

Picked by Lula to succeed him, Dilma Rousseff, the former guerrilla who had become his chief of staff, won the presidency in 2010 with a majority nearly as sweeping as his own. Four years later, she was re-elected, this time with a much smaller margin of victory, a 3 per cent lead over her opponent, Aécio Neves, the governor of Minas Gerais, in a result marked by greater regional polarisation than ever before, the industrialised south and south-east swinging heavily against her, and the north-east delivering an even larger landslide for her – 72 per cent – than in 2010. But overall it was a clear-cut win, comparable in size to that of Mitterrand over Giscard, and a good deal larger, not to mention cleaner, than that of Kennedy over Nixon. In January 2015 Dilma – from this point we’ll drop the surname, as Brazilians do – began her second presidency.

Within three months, huge demonstrations packed the streets of the country’s major cities, at least two million strong, demanding her ouster. In Congress, Neves’s Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) and its allies, emboldened by polls showing Dilma’s popularity had fallen to single figures, moved to impeach her. On May Day, she was unable even to give the traditional televised address to the nation: when her speech on International Women’s Day in March had been broadcast people banged saucepans and blew car horns, a form of protest that became known as panelaço. Overnight, the Workers’ Party (PT), which had long enjoyed by far the highest level of approval in Brazil, became the most unpopular party in the country. In private, Lula lamented: ‘We won the election. The following day we lost it.’ Many militants wondered if the party would survive at all.

London Review of Books for more

Reviews of India Since 2002 (book reviews)

April 27th, 2016

Unmasking Hindutva, Modi and majoritarian offensive

by REENA CHERIAN

IMAGE/Amazon

India Since 2002 by Mukul Dube (Foreword by Professor D.N. Jha); AlterNotes Press, New Delhi; 2015; pages: xii + 198; Price: Rs 380.

India Since 2002 is a collection of articles published by Mukul Dube in the weekly Mainstream. The earliest were written in the aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. The fiftythree articles are reflective of developments since then in the socio-political climate of the country. Some capture the emergence, origin and political positions adopted by leaders, such as “Maun Mustanda: The Strong Silent Man”and “Having One’s Mahaprasad and Eating it Too”, while articles such as “A Fair Unfair to Books”and On the Ramayanas Affair”deal with state control and Rightwing influence over literary expression and censorship. A wide spectrum of issues, debates, deliberations and political positions of politicians are at play in this anthology.

The wording of the article headings shows a precise and concise style of presenting the irony and solemnity of the issues, while the alliteration in article headings such as “The Path of the Parivar”, “One Voices and Two Noises”, “Haunted by History”, “Siddhartha Shankar Sibal” and “Memory and Modi” are indicative of the unique style of writing along with a tinge of cynicism and an apparent play with satire and humour.

The author has captured how conceptuali-sation and perception and meanings of words have changed post-2002. In “Black, White, No Grey” he illustrates this situation with the changed meaning of the word secularism. He describes what political dynamics led to the change in the meanings of these terminologies, and asserts that “the secular state must be nothing other than the secular”. (p. 10)

Speaking further on the selection and use of words, he says how words like sabhyata,asmita and apaharan were manipulated and bellowed by the Right-wing to form an impression of their being the forerunners of culture. Writing of the debate between tolerance and secularism, he points to the inherent nature of religions to compete and struggle with one another, each seeking to establish that it is the absolute truth.

There are vignettes. There is a detailed sketch of the image of the old hand Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as the face of Hindutva in the first part of “Heroic Hindutva” and of the neoteric Uma Bharti in the second part. “Maun Mustanda”, about Lal Krishna Advani, is about the veteran leader of Hindutva while Dubeji’s “Siddhartha Sankar Sibal” is a an amalgamated vignette of two Cabinet Ministers in Congress governments serving at different times but responding in the same manner to analogous circumstances.

Two articles deal with capital punishment for Afzal Guru. One is a critique of reliance on and adherence to circumstantial evidence, while the other is an appeal to the President on Mohammad Afzal Guru’s mercy petition. The article, “Some Observations on the Mohd. Afzal Case”, builds the context of the appeal made by him, N.D Pancholi and Harsh Kapoor. In 2012, he revisited Afzal Guru’s case after the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and disparaged the majoritarian response in both cases.

Mukul Dube criticises public response and opinion in the context of the Delhi Rape case by attributing it to the romanticism associated with the protest, which attracts people who are not truly committed to the fight. The July 2013 article, “The Importance of Being Ishrat”, vehe-mently opposes the “encounter” and the concerted campaign by the BJP, the Central Bureau of Investigation, and a section of the media to paint Ishrat Jahan as a terrorist.

Mainstream Weekly for more

Critical reflections

by NAMITA JAINER

India Since 2002 is a collection of critical reflections by Mukul Dube on the socio-political happenings in India in the aftermath of the Gujarat genocide of 2002, previously published in the weekly Mainstream between 2002 and 2015. Dube’s principal focus in this anthology is the depredations of the Sangh Parivar, the torch bearer of the ‘Vedic Taliban’ and Hindu fundamentalism. Articles like ‘Maun Mustanda: The Strong Silent Man’ are accounts of the gelid attitude of the leaders during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule towards the Gujarat pogrom. The use of religion by the Sangh Parivar by meddling with history and mythology, Dube argues, is very dangerous for the secular traditions upheld by the Constitution of India. Dube warns, in ‘Tolerant and Secular’, that every religion thrives on the unquestioning acceptance of its followers, leaving no place for reason. The communal tactics of the ‘Parivar’ are closely analysed by Dube in articles like ‘The Path of Parivar’ and ‘Having One’s Mahaprasad and Eating it too’, by which they are able to deracinate constitutional supremacy and rationality by perpetuating mythological falsehoods. Dube discusses the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in ‘Justice is not Revenge’ and states that ‘The true name of this fine piece of legislation is the Persecution of Terrorised Act … Licence to kill, some call it’ (p. 59). He states repeatedly in this book through various examples that legislations like POTA have continually been misused against the Muslim minority. India Since 2002 analyses the growing culture of intolerance promoted by the ‘family’, the Sangh Parivar, especially its systematically executed agenda of ‘saffronisation’. In articles such as ‘A Fair Unfair to Books’, ‘On the Ramayanas Affair’, and ‘The Uses of the Past’, Dube scrutinizes the various strategies of the ‘saffron brigade’ and writes that literally,‘silencing opponents is one use to which political power has been put. The other side of the coin is the spreading of one’s own vicious ideas, their imposition on the nation, most particularly its children’ (p. 28).

Book Review Literary Trust for more

Engaging with communalism

by RAM PUNIYANI

Many progressive writers have taken up issues related to sectarian politics and violence, more so since 1992-93, when the horrific Mumbai violence took place, and later after the Gujarat carnage of 2002. Mukul Dube, like many other sensitive, progressive individuals, began to write on issues related to communal violence and politics in 2002. While religion and related politics were not his priority earlier, he started responding to such issues since they began to threaten the very existence of our democracy. His first book was The Path of the Parivar, and it was followed after a year by The Parivar Raj and After.

The volume under review is a compilation of articles originally published in the Mainstream weekly. They are arranged sequentially, the advantage being that one can trace the trajectory of the politics which has been driving our society in the name of religion in a chronological fashion. In this format one can see the evolution of the intensity of this politics over a period of time. Since the RSS is at the centre of communal politics, issues related to the RSS combine (Parivar) are a central part of the book.

Dube takes the issues upfront in a matter of fact way, with a sprinkling of sarcasm. His generous use of Hindi words fits in naturally with the theme, which he helps us understand in its entire broad expanse. He correctly sees 2002 as a major landmark in the strengthening of the RSS combine, the path to “Hindu Rashtra”. Gujarat, which is one of the major subjects of discussion, was labelled the Laboratory of Hindu Rashtra, and over time through other machinations the Parivar (RSS Combine) has come to dominate the national scene. Hints about times to come are sprinkled in many of the articles which were written much earlier.

Prof. D. N. Jha, the eminent historian of ancient India, in his foreword makes a very valuable point when he writes that “Hindu right wing fantasizes about the past, presents a distorted picture of Indian history and culture and acts as a moral police …. We have entered into a veritable dark age.” Dube says that he had to return to writing due to the events in Gujarat, such was the intensity of what happened there. Many articles here deal with the enigma of Godhra and the violence which followed. While many investigative pieces have appeared in periodicals like Tehelka, the incisive analysis in Dube’s articles have their own merit. The failure of state and central government to stop the carnage is brought out well. The role of Modi and Advani, who was the Home Minister at the time, is analysed, linking the violence to the violence witnessed earlier in the aftermath of the Rath Yatra led by Advani.

Advani’s keeping silent when the carnage was going on and later, while visiting the UK, saying that what happened in Gujarat was “outrageous and indefensible”, shows the hypocrisy of those trained in the RSS ideology. While most of the country is forgetting the role of Advani, who was the original hatchet man and who later tried to create an image of a moderate, Dube says that RSS pracharaks assume different roles at different times. Modi, who presided over the Gujarat carnage, is now trying to present himself as a moderate.

Milli Gazette for more

Hubble spots a big blue bubble

April 27th, 2016

WIRED

Just in time for the 26th anniversary of Hubble’s launch on April 24, 1990, the telescope has photographed an enormous, balloon-like bubble being blown into space by a super-hot, massive star. Astronomers trained the iconic telescope on this colorful feature, called the Bubble Nebula, or NGC 7635. The bubble is 7 light-years across — about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri.

Wired