Medieval movement of Belgian holy women

January 17th, 2017


A group of beguines in the workroom of a beguinage in Ghent, Belgium, c. 1910. PHOTO/Internet Archive/Public Domain

The devout, wandering mystics were consigned to beguinages, which are now prime tourist spots

On June 1, 1310, a woman named Marguerite Porète was burned at the stake in Paris after she had refused to retract her book, The Mirror Of The Simple Souls. She was a particular kind of woman, devout to the point of fanaticism, and her book about Christian mysticism regarded as heretical by the Church.

“Marguerite Porète is a very interesting case,” says Walter Simons of Dartmouth College. “She made the mistake of wanting to make a point of her heresy. And that suited a lot of people quite well.”

Both the Church, who at the beginning of the 14th century was becoming increasingly worried about heretical movements, and the French crown saw in Porète an easy target, an unmarried, wandering mystic. It didn’t help that she was a member of a mysterious, distrusted, poorly-understood religious movement—the beguines.

Beguines were a religious movement of women who weren’t wives but also weren’t fully ordained in a religious order. There is a long history of Christian mystics, and they occupied a twilight zone in which they could move between the secular and religious worlds. They didn’t need to bear the burden of married life, but also weren’t forced to seclude themselves as nuns did, leading active and economically useful lives as single women.

The movement founds its origin in 12th century when mulieres religiosae, holy women, began grouping together in cities of present day Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Northern France. Here they lived in voluntary poverty and preached sexual abstinence, while living lives in the service of the poor and marginalized. One such holy woman, the 23-year old widow Juetta of Huy, left her family in the city of Liege around 1181 to serve lepers. She then spent the last 36-years of her life immured as an anchorite.

Atlas Obscura for more

via Women of History

75 years ago: Imperial Japanese troops enter Manila

January 17th, 2017


Japanese attack on Luzon

On January 2, 1942 the imperialist war for control of the Pacific intensified further when Japanese troops entered the Philippine capital Manila on the island of Luzon. The Philippine archipelago of 7,000 islands had become a possession of the United States after the military defeat of the former colonial overlords of Spain in 1898.

General MacArthur held back his troops in early December when Imperial Japan landed at the northern end of the biggest and most populous Filipino island. He decided that the small landings made by the Japanese were a diversionary tactic designed to divide American forces in two.

The Japanese made further military landings two days later on the southeastern portion of Luzon. But the main Japanese attack upon Luzon did not occur until December 22, 1941, when some 43,000 troops of the 14th Army landed just 200 kilometers north of Manila. Their mission was to mount a pincer movement upon the Philippine capital.

MacArthur was said to command a force in excess of 100,000 troops, but the majority of them were local reserve forces that melted back into the civilian population once the Japanese invaded. His effective fighting force consisted only of 31,000 reliable American and Philippine troops, and the Japanese invasion force, aided by an armored vanguard, were soon pushing on towards the Manila Bay.

On December 24, MacArthur enacted contingency plan Orange, whereby the Filipino President Manuel Quezon and government together with MacArthur’s troops, retreated to the Bataan Peninsula on the west side of the Manila Bay in order to hold out against the Japanese assault.

The island of Corregidor, where MacArthur established his battle HQ, was positioned at the mouth of the great inlet. Its entrance was controlled with artillery batteries, which also covered the southeastern end of the 50-kilometer-long peninsula of Bataan.

World Socialist Web Site for more

In Iraq, Syrian and Yezidi women struggle to rebuild their lives

January 17th, 2017


Yezidi women come together to support each other and find ways to manage extreme stress and depression. PHOTO/Alison Baskerville, 2016

“Our women have been driven from their homeland, and come here living under very difficult conditions. They feel vulnerable. But they are strong women. What they need is a center like this, so they can come and find strength.”

Amal is one of the more than 4 million refugees and displaced people struggling to rebuild their lives in Iraq. Today, Women for Women International is working to help Syrian and Yezidi women who have been forced to flee to northern Iraq because of conflict and war.

Displaced for months or years, women face challenges that threaten their basic security, economic well-being, and survival. They are targets of sexual harassment and gender-based violence in their families, camps, and host communities. They struggle to earn money to support their families. Many say they are hungry. They have survived extreme trauma and stress, and they are ready to move forward.

Creating a safe space to access trained counselors

In response to this crisis, Women for Women International is working with local organizations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to reach the most vulnerable women in need of support, including those suffering severe emotional trauma, at high risk of violence, and living in extreme poverty. Over the next three years, WfWI will provide psychosocial support services, and life and business skills training to 3,000 Syrian and Yezidi women in the KRI to help them overcome trauma and find the resources needed to rebuild their lives.

Women for Women for more

Liberation of Aleppo

January 16th, 2017


Aleppo city on December 3, with the Aleppo citadel and smoke rising after an air strike in the background PHOTO/Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and commercial capital, has finally been liberated after a struggle lasting over four and a half years. The last of the rebel soldiers were evacuated on December 22, 2016. The safe passage of civilians went ahead despite dire predictions from Western governments and the media. In a week-long operation, 34,000 civilians and fighters were escorted out of the city despite harsh weather conditions. Since then, the only gunfire heard in Aleppo has been from its residents holding impromptu celebrations. Most of the city was under government control anyway because of the unwavering support of the populace for the secular government of Syria.

Civilians displaced from their homes have slowly started returning to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble. They celebrated Christmas in the historical church of St. Elias, which was located on the front lines. The Christmas tree was lit up in eastern Aleppo after a gap of four and a half years. After the war started, the Christian population shrank to 50,000 from a high of 250,000. Many of Aleppo’s historical sites, including its famed Souk al Madina (market) and the Umayyad mosque, have been badly damaged. It is “game over” for the West and its regional proxies in Syria. With the ouster of the rebels from the last remaining pockets of eastern Aleppo, the Syrian government now has complete control of all the major cities in the country.

President Bashar al-Assad described the liberation of the city as a historic turning point in the war. He praised the people of Aleppo for their courage and their will to resist the terrorists, and the Syrian Arab Army for its courage and sacrifices. Among the more than 300,000 killed in the war so far, the army has taken the bulk of the casualties. President Assad thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for being Syria’s main partner in the battle, saying that the liberation of the city could pave the way for a political solution. Assad also thanked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for his government’s support. Rouhani told Assad that it was Iran’s duty “to support those trying to force out takfiri [Sunni jehadi] forces out of their territory”. Western governments, on the other hand, are viewing the defeat of the jehadi forces as a huge setback to their plans to effect a regime change in Syria.

Disappointed West

Besides the capital, Damascus, the main cities of Homs and Hama are also under the firm control of the government. These cities, where the bulk of the population lives, are known as “Syria’s southern spine”. The rebels now have influence only in sparsely populated areas such as Idlib province, situated to the west of Aleppo, and on the outskirts of Damascus and Aleppo, where they are waging a losing battle. Raqqa, a small city which remains under the control of the Daesh (the so-called Islamic State), is under siege from all sides. President Assad has said that the next priority is to clear the rebels from the vicinity of Damascus and then focus on eliminating them from Idlib province and Palmyra. In Idlib, it is the al-Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate, which holds sway. The overstretched Syrian Army is not in a position to take on the rebels. Washington and its allies wanted to use the presence in Aleppo of the jehadists they had armed and trained as an important card to wrest diplomatic and military concessions from the Syrian government and its allies when peace talks resume in Geneva.

The Barack Obama administration tried its best to prevent the total liberation of Aleppo. According to declassified reports, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was spending as much as $1 billion every year to help train and arm jehadi forces in Aleppo and other places. The U.S. tried to help groups such as al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham by selectively bombing Syrian military targets. The targeting of the Syrian Army in Aleppo in October by the U.S. Air Force even as a humanitarian truce was in place is an example.

Frontline for more

Media fell for Nazi-manufactured ‘white genocide’ scandal

January 16th, 2017


Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher

A “Twitter controversy” broke out on Christmas Day after leftist Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted out, “All I Want for Christmas Is White Genocide” to his 11,000 followers. The tweet–since deleted–was a play on the white supremacist myth of a “White Genocide,” a canard that whites are under threat from interracial dating and diversity.

Online Nazis (sometimes euphemistically referred to by their prefered marketing descriptor, the “alt-right”) quickly pounced. The faux Twitter outrage was further stoked by the far-right online tabloid Breitbart (12/25/16), which ran the story without any of the essential context (though it took the opportunity to denounce Venezuela’s “communist government,” for some reason). Before one could catch up to the substance of the “controversy,” it was asserted to be a controversy as such.

Much like George Hamilton is famous for being famous, “Twitter backlash” stories are often controversial for being controversial. So long as enough people are tweeting outrage—regardless of their motive or Nazi status—the story becomes one through sheer assertion. Someone is “under fire,” “provoking outrage,” causing “backlash”—no matter if this fire or outrage or backlash is merited, or sincere. What matters is there’s controversy, and this must be breathlessly covered.

In an effort to “both sides” the issue, corporate media indulged racist concern trolling over what, as anyone familiar with the term knows, is a white supremacist panic. Those stoking the outrage, namely Breitbart and hordes of online Nazis, know that the term means interracial relationships and diversity programs, not an actual genocide. Rather than investigate the outrage, its motives and its proper context, most media outlets—and, initially, Ciccariello-Maher’s employer Drexel University themselves—reflexively framed the issue as a leftist professor literally calling for genocide, without noting the cynical origins of the controversy.

As FAIR has noted several times before, headlines matter as much if not more than article text. 60 percent of Americans don’t read past the headline, and the same percentage share articles on social media without actually clicking on them. People’s impressions are formed by how issues are framed—how they are initially presented—and from scanning these headlines one is given the impression Ciccariello-Maher is a pro-genocide zealot:

  • “What Is White Genocide? Race War Debated After Drexler Professor Tweets, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is White Genocide’” (IBT, 12/26/16)
  • “Pennsylvania Professor Under Fire for ‘White Genocide’ Tweet” (Reuters, 12/26/16)
  • “Pennsylvania Prof Under Fire for ‘White Genocide’ Tweet” (ABC/AP, 12/26/16)
  • “Professor Under Fire for Tweet That Appeared to Support ‘White Genocide’” (LA Times/AP, 2/26/16)
  • “Drexel Professor Slammed for ‘White Genocide’ Christmas Wish” (Fox News, 12/26/16)
  • “Drexel University Professor Under Fire for ‘White Genocide’ Tweet” (New York Daily News, 12/26/16)
  • “Uproar After Pennsylvania Professor Calls for ‘White Genocide’ in a Christmas Wish Tweet” (Daily Mail, 12/26/16)

It isn’t until three or four paragraphs down in most of these articles that they explain what “white genocide” actually means and the satirical nature of the tweet is dissected.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting for more

In Christian United States, Hindus make a proportional splash

January 16th, 2017


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (C) swears in the newly elected members of the House of Representatives during the opening of the 115th US Congress on January 3, 2017 PHOTO/AFP Photo/Jim Watson/Yahoo

For years, particularly during the time when the BJP has been in power, many Indians have resented western media descriptions of India as ”Hindu India” or ”mostly-Hindu” India. That’s like gratuitously calling the US. ”Christian United States,” they’ve fumed, pointing out that India’s Constitution does not mention God or religious allegiance, and religious proclivities of a political party should not be used to tag a secular country with one, or any, religion.

The US Constitution does not refer to God either, but He (it’s always ”He” in Christian theology) pops in the Declaration of Independence, and is invoked in almost every political speech (”God bless you and God bless the United States!”), a ”verbal tic” that has been ridiculed by the country’s strong agnostic community. Countries that explicitly invoke ”God” or ”Almighty” include Pakistan, Brazil, Australia, Ireland, Greece, Canada, and South Africa, among others.

Well, regardless of Constitutional references and niceties, religion is very much a part of political life and calculations both in India and the United States. A new analysis by the Pew Research Center on the religious affiliation of American lawmakers has concluded that the ”U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s… although the share of US adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades.”

The study says among members of the new, 115th Congress that was sworn in on Tuesday, 91 per cent describe themselves as Christians. This is nearly the same percentage as in the 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available), when 95 per cent of members were Christian.

Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new Congress, all but two identify as Christians; the only exceptions are two Jewish Republicans — Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee.

Democrats in Congress also are overwhelmingly Christian (80%), but there is more religious diversity on this side of the aisle. The 242 Democrats in Congress include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist – as well as the only member of Congress to describe herself as religiously unaffiliated.

According to the survey, the number of Hindus in Congress rose from one to three, as Ro Khanna (D-Calif), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) joined Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) who was first elected to serve in the 113th Congress (2013 to 2014) and has been re-elected twice, among those who identified themselves as Hindus.

Times of India for more

Weekend Edition

January 13th, 2017

Obama’s bullshitting and a call to his supporters

January 13th, 2017


President Barack Obama speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, giving his presidential farewell address PHOTO/AP/Nam Y. Huh/ABC

One of the main differences between the outgoing US president and the incoming US president: President Barack Obama is a very articulate, charismatic, and sincere sounding speaker whose body language, gestures, and fine vocabulary has the power to force the listener to believe in what he is saying, even though he may be lying. On the other hand, president elect Donald Trump, who sounds phony, is extremely inarticulate with a limited vocabulary, and whose rough uncharismatic presence can piss off the listener, even though sometimes he may be stating the fact. But to state the truth, both are bullshitters – Obama to a lesser degree.

The outgoing president utilized his farewell speech to list his achievements:

“If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history . if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11 . if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.”

For improving relations with Iran and Cuba, and introducing the Obamacare, Obama should be commended. The job creation boast is half true because most of the jobs created during his tenure were part time and of temporary nature. Killing of Osama bin Laden was not a big deal; in May 2011, he was a spent force. A revolutionary thing Obama could have done but didn’t do was to put behind bars the Wall Street crooks responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. The reason being that he himself is part of the establishment.

Obama had the nerve to tell the people that the “sights were set a little too high.” It’s a great lie. His statement would have been true if he had really done somethings such as releasing members of minorities (mostly blacks and Latinos) incarcerated wrongly or on minor charges; close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center (which he might close down before leaving office); forced Apple, Microsoft, and other high tech companies to hire more minorities (they only have two% blacks in their workforce); and so on.

Though later in his speech, Obama acknowledged how much work was not done. The usual rhetorical blaming of the corporations was there when he said:

“make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their success possible.”

Bullshit. January 2009, when Obama came to power, was the time for him to have arrested the corporate crooks and set an example for other corporate CEOs to pay their due share without creating any economic/financial crisis.

The other gist of Obama’s speech was to warn the Democrats and supporters of the Democratic Party to be prepared to face and fight back the drastic changes Trump administration will be unleashing once he is in power.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Here’s looking at you

January 13th, 2017


People watching a 3D film at a cinema in Beijing. These days visual effects companies’ revenues largely depend on orders from films that have a high-budget for post-production. PHOTO/Ecns

Filmmakers have tapped laws of perception still unexplored by neuroscience to create a visual feast in the brain

About 25 minutes into the action film Iron Man 2 (2010), there is an explosive sequence in the middle of an auto race through the streets of Monaco. The scene is a technical tour de force, with explosions, cars flipping and fire everywhere, all in front of thousands of panicked race spectators. At a 2014 event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the film’s director Jon Favreau got to see the eye movements of audience members who watched the clip. He told us he was thrilled – and relieved – to see that everyone was watching the actors Robert Downey Jr and Mickey Rourke, particularly their faces and hands, and that nobody was looking at the crowd – because the crowd was all computer-generated, and if you look closely they don’t look all that real. As long as you don’t look closely, Favreau (who was also an executive producer) could go a little cheap on these effects and save the money for where it would really count.

This phenomenon – the audience’s eyes moving in unison – is characteristic of film viewing. It is not typical of real-world vision. Rather, filmmakers use editing, framing and other techniques to tightly control where we look. Over 125 years, the global filmmaking community has been engaged in an informal science of vision, conducting a large number of trial-and-error experiments on human perception. The results are not to be found in any neuroscience or psychology textbook, though you can find some in books on cinematography and film editing, and in academic papers analysing individual films. Other insights are there in the films themselves, waiting to be described. In recent years, professional scientists have started to mine this rich, informal database, and some of what we have learned is startling.

To understand how the eyes are affected by movies, you need to know a bit about how they work outside the theatre. When we are just living our lives, our eyes jump from one location to another two or three times per second, taking in some things and skipping over others. Those jumps are called saccades. (Our eyes also make smooth tracking movements, say when we are following a bird in the sky or a car on the road, but those are somewhat rare.) Why do we do this? Because our brains are trying to build a reasonably complete representation of what is happening using a camera – the eye – that has high resolution only in a narrow window. If any visual detail is important for our understanding of the scene, we need to point our eyes at it to encode it.

The way people use eye movements to explore a scene has a consistent rhythm that involves switching between a rapid exploratory mode and a slower information-extraction mode. Suppose you check into a resort, open a window, and look out on a gorgeous beach. First, your eyes will rapidly scan the scene, making large movements to fix on objects throughout the field of what you can see. Your brain is building up a representation of what is there in the scene – establishing the major axes of the environment, localising landmarks within that space, categorising the objects. Then, you will transition to a slower, more deliberate mode of seeing. In this mode, your eyes will linger on each object for longer, and your eye movements will be smaller and more deliberate. Now, your brain is filling in details about each object. Given enough time, this phase will peter out. At this point, you might turn to another window and start all over again, or engage in a completely different activity – writing a postcard or unpacking.

Aeon for more

Kashmir in perspective

January 13th, 2017


Kashmir: Virasat aur Siasat by Urmilesh
Publisher: Anamika Publishers and Distributors Pvt. Limited, New Delhi; revised Edition, 2016
Pages: 182; price: Paperback: Rs.20

Not much literature is available in Hindi on Kashmir and the politics surrounding it. Hindi writers have refrained from writing on this critical and contentious issue, which evokes nationalistic sentiments in today’s India. There are, of course, books in Hindi on Kashmir, but these have either taken a propagandist approach or tend to resort to plain distortion of facts. This is why those who read these books have an understanding about Kashmir that is often disconnected from reality.

The noted journalist and political commentator Urmilesh has tried to bridge this gap by trying to unravel the political dynamics of a place that has been seething with anger and frustration, especially since July 8, 2016. His book, Kashmir: Virasat Aur Siyasat, is perhaps the first one in Hindi on Kashmir’s political trajectory. Urmilesh has dealt in detail with the political crisis in Jammu and Kashmir and the atmosphere of turmoil that continues to engulf the State. The unrest witnessed in the Kashmir Valley since July is political in nature. The author tries to tell us how it arose.

Dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah

Basing his arguments on the experience he gained from reporting on Kashmir for 16 years, Urmilesh traces the State’s alienation to the unfulfilled promises made to the people of Kashmir and the way the region was robbed of its autonomy. He lays emphasis on the illegal dismissal of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1953 and the way it provided an impetus to the unrest within the State. Quoting from Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography, the author explains how the dismissal impacted the political landscape of Kashmir and how it was seen as a massive betrayal by its people.

The debate over Maharaja Hari Singh acceding to newly independent India remains central to understanding the origins of the Kashmir dispute.

The book covers the history of Kashmir’s accession and the instrument that was signed by the Maharaja. It covers political history in a comprehensive way as the author puts things in context by giving a brief account of the ancient and medieval history of the State.

In that sense, the book helps the reader understand the larger political problem in a broad historical perspective.

Frontline for more