The hateful monk

September 21st, 2017


Ashin Wirathu and his followers in Barbet Schroeder’s The Venerable W., 2017 PHOTO/Les Films du Losange

Ma Soe Yein is the largest Buddhist monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar. A dreary sprawl of dormitories and classrooms, it is located in the western half of the city, and accommodates some 2,500 monks. The atmosphere inside is one of quiet industry. Young men, clad in orange and maroon robes, sit on the floors and study the Dharma or memorize ritual texts. There is little noise except for the endless scraping of straw brooms on wooden floors, or the dissonant hum of people in collective prayer. Outside, the scene is livelier. Monks hurriedly douse themselves with cold water, and chat politics over a table of newspapers. They do so in the shadow of a large wall covered with gruesome images depicting the alleged bloodlust of Islam. Photographs, displayed without any explanation or evidence of their origins, show beaten faces, hacked bodies, and severed limbs—brutalities apparently committed by Muslims against Myanmar Buddhists.

The contrast between the monastery’s inner calm and this exterior display of violence is a fitting inversion of Ma Soe Yein’s most infamous resident, Ashin Wirathu, the subject of Barbet Schroeder’s new documentary, The Venerable W. On the outside, Wirathu is composed and polite, with large brown eyes and a sweet, impish grin. His voice is smooth and its cadence measured. Yet beneath this civil disguise seethes an interminable hatred toward the 4 percent of Myanmar’s population that is Muslim (the wall of carnage stands outside his residence). Wirathu is responsible for inciting some of the worst acts of ethnic violence in the country’s recent history, and was described by Time as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

Schroeder, an Iranian-born Swiss filmmaker, has spent decades documenting the morally despicable. His “Trilogy of Evil” began in 1974 with General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait, a character study of the Ugandan dictator. The second installment, Terror’s Advocate (2007), was on the French-Algerian defense lawyer Jacques Vergès, whose clients have included Klaus Barbie, Carlos the Jackal, the Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, and the Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. Wirathu is Schroeder’s final subject, and, for him, the most terrifying. “I am afraid to call him Wirathu because even his name scares me,” he said in a recent interview with Agence France-Presse. “I just call him W.”

The film charts Wirathu’s rise from provincial irrelevance in Kyaukse to nationwide rabble-rouser. It centers on the crucial moments of his budding ethno-nationalism, such as in 1997, when he says his eyes were “finally opened” to the “Muslims’ intentions” after reading a pamphlet entitled In Fear of Our Race Disappearing, which appeared in print by an unknown author; or 2003, when he delivered a chilling sermon—caught on camera—against Muslim “kalars” (kalar is the equivalent of “nigger”). “I can’t stand what they do to us,” he says to rapturous applause. “As soon as I give the signal, get ready to follow me…I need to plan the operation well, like the CIA or Mossad, for it to be effective…I will make sure they will have no place to live.” One month later, in Kyaukse, eleven Muslims were killed, and two mosques and twenty-six houses were burned to the ground. Wirathu was arrested by the military junta for inciting violence, and spent nine years in Mandalay’s Obo prison.

The remains of a mosque in Meiktila, central Burma, after the March 2013 anti-Islamic riots, from The Venerable W., 2017

Like Marcel Ophüls, a filmmaker who explored the quotidian aspects of intolerance and oppression, Schroeder’s interviewing style is never hostile or moralistic. As he writes in the notes to the film, the point is to let the subjects speak, “without judging them, and in the process evil can emerge under many different forms, and the horror or the truth comes out progressively, all by itself.” In one instance, Wirathu bares the depths of his self-regard when he claims to have been the inspiration for the Saffron Revolution of 2007—a delusion scorned in the film by one of its leaders, U. Kaylar Sa, who describes the desperate social conditions that forced the monks onto the streets of Rangoon.

The New York Review of Books for more

How slaves reacted to their appraisals: Traumatic U.S. history of slave auctions

September 21st, 2017


PHOTO/Beacon Press

A new book asks important questions about slaves’ perspectives on their auctions, including an enslaved father who fought to buy his son at auction.

Excerpted from The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation by Daina Ramey Berry (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

Chapter 3: Adolescence, Young Adulthood, and Soul Values

Average Appraised Values:
Females: $517 ($15,189 in 2014); Males: $610 ($17,934 in 2014)
Average Sale Prices:
Females: $515 ($15,131 in 2014); Males: $662 ($19,447 in 2014)

They abolished the external or African slave trade, in 1808, the effect of which gave an impetus to the infamous traffic of slave breeding and trading among themselves; and perhaps it was one of the main objects they had in view, the protection of their slave breeders and traders.—Thomas Smallwood, 1851

As was the custom, all the negroes were brought out and placed in a line, so that the buyers could examine their good points at leisure… once negotiated with the trader, paid the price agreed upon, and started for home to present his wife with this flesh and blood commodity, which money could so easily procure in our vaunted land of freedom. —Lucy A. Delaney, 1891

On the eve of the Civil War, an abolitionist attending the auction of 149 human souls in New Orleans, Louisiana, was intrigued by the bid caller’s excitement over a seventeen-year-old field hand named Joseph who was on the auction block. “Gentlemen,” the bid caller exclaimed, “there is a young blood, and a capital one! He is a great boy, a hand for almost every thing. Besides, he is the best dancer in the whole lot, and he knows also how to pray—oh! so beautifully, you would believe he was made to be a minister! How much will you bid for him?” The opening bid for Joseph was a thousand dollars, but according to the enthusiastic auctioneer, Joseph was worth more, considering his value over time. “One thousand dollars for a boy who will be worth in three years fully twenty-five hundred dollars cash down. Who is going to bid two thousand?” the caller asked his audience. As the price for Joseph increased to $1,400, each interested party eagerly made eye contact with the bid caller. Standing on the podium with a wand in hand, he tried to increase Joseph’s price by assuring the audience that $1,400 was “too small an amount for” him. “Seventeen years only,” he added, “a strong, healthy, fine-looking, intelligent boy. Fourteen hundred and fifty dollars!… One thousand, four hundred and fifty—going! going! going! And last—gone!” As the caller slapped his hand on the platform, just like that, in less than five minutes, Joseph was sold “to the highest bidder.”

We do not have direct testimony from Joseph about his response to this sale, in which he was sold with 148 others from the same Louisiana plantation. Joseph’s enslaver, who provided religious instruction to his human chattel, decided to retire from planting in order to pursue a political career. In two days, he sold an enslaved population consisting of field hands (like Joseph), carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, coopers, drivers, and household servants. How did Joseph (enslaved person #2) feel about being the second person on the auction block that day? Did Joseph’s experience differ at age seventeen, as he approached his “prime” working years, from the experiences of others who were younger or older than him? Had Joseph’s adolescence and teen years prepared him for this moment? Was he conditioned to handle and/or witness auctions from previous exposure?

Where were his parents? Did he have any siblings, given that there is no mention of his relatives? Yet witnesses said the enslaved stood “upon a platform, similar to a funeral pile erected for martyrs” holding on to their last embrace. Joseph stepped on the block alone as the auctioneer described him with a host of complimentary adjectives. What was his mind-set? Did these descriptions comfort him, uplift him, or add to the trauma of being sold? Joseph and Isam (slave #21) were noted for their ability to preach, and they likely approached the block in silent prayer. Ultimately, their fate is unknown.

ALTERNET for more

Neil deGrasse Tyson & Bill Nye on GMOs. It’s about class rule not the shiny tool

September 21st, 2017


Scientists Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson PHOTO/Huffington Post

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are science educators, all over TV and the internet. Nye is an aeronautical engineer, a one-time member of the team that delivered the Boeing 747. Tyson is an astrophysicist and director of NYC’s Hayden Planetarium. Over the years both have had lots of mostly sensible things to say about the disastrous prospects of human caused climate change.

But Tyson and Nye now assure us all that GMO technologies in the hands of the same corporate profiteers and rent extractors who are melting the North Pole, Greenland and a good deal of Antarctica to get the last few trillion in fossil fuel profits are nothing to worry about, are perfectly OK and no cause for concern.

To their credit, Tyson and Nye don’t themselves say “Trust your corporate overlords, Bill Gates and Monsanto just want to feed the world…” But they do come pretty close. Bill Nye’s Netflix show included a Monsanto exec to say exactly those words and Tyson appeared opposite a scientist and organic farmer who declared that not one person has ever been poisoned, maimed or killed by a genetically modified product. Ever since then that’s been their position.

They’re talking like lawyers, not like scientists. Nye and Tyson fail to take into account the the waves of tens of thousands of excess suicides among hopelessly indebted poor farmers in India the last 15 years, farmers whose debt load had been greatly increased dependence on costly commercial seed and pesticide.

They lost their land, their hope and their lives. Even if Monsanto didn’t poison them, the seed and pesticide and biotech entrepreneurs were part of the machine that killed them.

Farmers had been planting seed, feeding people, saving exchanging and planting more seed ten or twenty thousand years without having to pay Monsanto and its allies. But the investors at Monsanto had a vision. They called it “value capture” in global agriculture, the establishment of new private property rights which would enable them to extract revenue, to collect rent on the ordinary operation of seeds and natural processes. Investors in the new “life science industries” tirelessly lobbied judges and government officials to establish “intellectual property” rights over seeds and genetic material, including those found in plants, animals and humans. Once they got this written into case law and treaties, as I wrote back in 2005

“American corporations beginning in the 1990s were able file a blizzard of patents claiming varieties of rice and wheat grown for centuries in India, beans cultivated before Columbus in Mexico, a staggering array of medicinal plants known and used by local inhabitants of Africa, of South and Southeast Asia, of Amazonia and elsewhere, along with the foods and medicines derived from them, and their methods of preparation as the private “intellectual property” of those corporations.”

That was plan A for the new genetic engineering entrepreneurs, and it’s the clearest possible indication that in their hands this is a purely parasitic operation, a jacked up raiding party.

Their Plan B was even worse. It was development of something called the terminator seed . Terminator seed technology amounts to the ability to guarantee a seed of some vital crop only lasts a single generation so that your farmers, your victims are forced to pay the owner whose “intellectual property” they had been carelessly saving, eating, exchanging and cultivating for thousands of years until now. The genetic engineering entrepreneurs wanted to use their new property rights to turn seed germination off until you, or third world farmers, paid them.

Black Agenda Report for more

How the British treated ‘hardcore’ Mau Mau women

September 20th, 2017


New research on the treatment of ‘hardcore’ female Mau Mau prisoners by the British in the late 1950s sheds new light on how ideas about gender, deviancy and mental health shaped colonial practices of punishment.

“The story of the female detainees at Gitamayu and Kamiti also reveals unique elements that were determined by colonial ideas about female deviancy, these ultimately becoming the defining feature of incarceration for Mau Mau’s hardcore women.”

Katherine Bruce-Lockhart

The research, published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, was conducted by Gates Cambridge Scholar Katherine Bruce-Lockhart and is the first study to make use of new material on a camp in Gitamayu used to hold “hardcore” female detainees.

The treatment of the Mau Mau by the British has led to compensation claims in the courts. Last year the British government agreed to pay out £19.9m in costs and compensation to more than 5,000 elderly Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse during the Mau Mau uprising in the 50s. Two of those involved in the recent case were women and further female compensation cases are pending.

Bruce-Lockhart is interested in the treatment of “hardcore” Mau Mau women in the final years of the Emergency Period, one that was marked by uncertainty, violence and an increasing reliance on ethno-psychiatry.

From 1954 to 1960, the British detained approximately 8,000 women under the Emergency Powers imposed to combat the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya. The majority of female detainees were held in Kamiti Detention Camp and its importance has been widely acknowledged by historians. However, new documentary evidence released from the Hanslope Park Archive since 2011 has revealed the existence of a second camp established for women at Gitamayu, created in 1958 in order to deal with the remaining “hardcore” female detainees.

The Archive contains over 1,500 files and was uncovered in 2011 by historians working on the London High Court case between the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Kenyan plaintiffs who were held in detention camps during the Emergency Period. The files were considered too sensitive to fall into the hands of the Kenyan government, and were taken out of Kenya by the British prior to independence. The files have been pivotal in the London High Court Case, as their contents show how senior British officials sanctioned the use of systematic force against Mau Mau detainees in the camps, stretching the legal limits of legitimate violence. The documents relating to Kamiti and Gitamayu reveal how this systematic use of violence was extended to hardcore women and the multiple ways colonial officials tried to hide it.

University of Cambridge research for more

How to counter colonial myths about Muslim arrival in Sindh

September 20th, 2017


Battle of Miani, oil on wood | Dry leaves from young Egypt, Volume I

It is a fact not so easily known, thus rarely acknowledged, that the British colonial project in India at one moment turned into an excavation of India’s pasts. This excavation was aimed at exploring the arrival of various ‘foreign’ people, cultures, religions and politics into the Subcontinent. After all, the Indian peninsula had been the site of commercial, political and military incursions by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Timurids since 1498. Surely, one reason for the excavation was that, as the latest foreigners to arrive in India, the British wanted a justification for their own arrival. The other reason is tied to the way in which the British saw themselves as heirs to the Romans.

Edward Gibbon published the first volume of his book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776, the year Great Britain lost 13 of its colonies in America. All six volumes of the book came out by 1788 to tremendous acclaim and sales. A central theme in Gibbon’s work was his quest for historical linkages between Pax Britannica – the period of British-dominated world order – and Pax Romana.

He provided the foundational stone for a theory that sought to legitimise British colonial enterprise as a successor to a great empire of the past that brought a long era of peace and prosperity for Europe in its wake. Even more influential, I would argue, is his exploration of the relationship between race and politics within the context of the Roman experience. This relationship was immediately employed in legitimising the British conquest of India.

The British formally began their imperial project in India in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey. In 1783, William Jones arrived as a sessions judge at Fort William in Calcutta. Over the next decade, he founded the new science of philology that combined linguistics with human migration patterns and mingling of races across the Indo-European region. He linked ancient languages and prehistoric migrations to the long history of foreign arrivals into India, a process that would culminate in the advent of the British presence in the Subcontinent. He came up with a story that linked Greek, Latin and Sanskrit languages via a “common source” that “no longer existed”. This “common source” was “conquerors from other kingdoms in some very remote age”.

By the early 19th century, a new generation of British officers became scholars of India’s pasts. They imagined themselves as latter-day Alexander the Greats, amassing accounts of geographies, peoples and objects that connected India to the Greeks, and by extension to the Romans, of the past. Alexander Burnes, James Tod, Richard F Burton and Edward B Eastwick were most prominent among them.

They travelled between Kabul and Bombay and collected manuscripts, coins and copper utensils in order to establish how India came under Greek influence through Alexander the Great’s conquest of the northwestern parts of the Subcontinent. Their research focused on Greek and Roman trade with India, Alexander’s conquest and the remnants of his armies that stayed back in the areas he had passed through.

Herald for more

A dissenter silenced

September 20th, 2017


Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore on March 21, 2011. Photo/K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Gauri Lankesh’s killing, though one in a long line of similar killings of secular writers, activists and public intellectuals in recent months and years, represents in some sense a turning point, a new and significant moment in the growing environment of intolerance in the country.

It grieves me to write about Gauri Lankesh in the past tense. The television news flash on September 5 of her brutal murder on the steps of her house in Bengaluru was met with initial disbelief and incomprehension by her large constellation of friends, colleagues, acquaintances and admirers. Stunned, friends called each other for confirmation of the dreadful news and to assimilate its import: the similarities between the killing of the distinguished and outspoken academic M.M. Kalburgi in 2015 and Gauri’s murder; the knowledge that Gauri would also have been in the crosshairs of the same forces for her uncompromising stance against communalism; the enabling atmosphere in the country over the last few years for hate crimes of this sort to be committed. These connections provided tentative answers to the question on everyone’s mind: Why Gauri?

The response to news of her death in Bengaluru and other parts of the country assumed the proportions of a tidal wave of grief, anger and, perhaps, fear too. There is also the growing realisation that her killing, though one in a long line of similar killings of secular writers, activists and public intellectuals in recent months and years, represents in some sense a turning point, a new and significant moment in the growing environment of intolerance in the country. For Gauri is—was—a force in Kannada journalism, having carved out a niche in a special kind of adversarial journalism. She has been on the media scene from the 1980s—first with the English media, and since 2000 in Kannada journalism. Her tabloid, Gauri Lankesh Patrike, an offshoot of Lankesh Patrike which her father started and she took over after his death, is widely read precisely because it offers an alternative kind of journalism.

Gauri adopted her father’s anti-establishment, muckraking tone and style but steered the publication onto a fundamentally new path. She used it as a platform for waging a relentless battle-of-the-pen against the rising tide of Hindutva fundamentalism and its growing hold on India’s body politic. That is why she and her publication incurred the wrath of the Hindu Right. Gauri made no bones about her publication’s bias. She had declared herself an activist-journalist and used every public platform to speak out against communal politics, whether at the State or Central level. She campaigned on the ground and in her newspaper on some of the major flashpoints of communal tension in Karnataka–the Hubli flag-hoisting controversy, the attempt by the Sangh Parivar to convert the Sufi shrine of Bababudangiri into a Hindu temple, and the widespread phenomenon of moral policing by Hindu right-wing groups in coastal Karnataka. She was also active on issues of social justice and women’s rights, though it was unquestionably her anti-communal and secular credentials that she was known for.

Frontline for more

On Schizophrenia: Father and son discuss battling mental illness and the art it inspires

September 19th, 2017


‘In the distance I could see people looking for me under the night stars with flashlights. There was a dog barking. But I was not afraid because I felt in the care of the tree’ Henry Cockburn

In the first of a three-part series, Patrick Cockburn and his son Henry, reflect on the trauma of schizophrenia Henry has experienced for the past 16 years – and how painting helped

My son Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a 20-year-old art student in Brighton in 2002. He had tried to swim across the estuary at Newhaven that February and was rescued from the freezing water by fishermen and taken to hospital, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia.

Henry was sectioned a year later and spent the next eight years confined in mental hospitals in the grip of a psychosis that ebbed and flowed but from which he could not escape. He disappeared into a mental world where no barrier existed between dreams, nightmares and reality and the voices of trees and bushes spoke to him, became his friends and told him what to do. He hated being confined in hospital but could scarcely have survived outside it as he wandered through east Kent, sometimes walking naked along railway tracks or swimming lakes and rivers in mid-winter.

He ran away from hospitals some 30 times, but his very inability to look after himself meant that he usually, though not invariably, was found within a few days. It seemed all too likely to my wife Jan and myself that he would not live long and we were in dread of a final call from the police saying that it was all over. In his more rational moments, Henry agreed with this, repeatedly saying: “I do not think I am going to live past 30.”

In the event, Henry’s strong underlying will to live, medical attention, family support and a fair measure of luck, meant that he did survive, unlike many of his friends in a similar situation. From 2007 the impact of his disorder began to recede, mainly because he came under the care of a consultant who saw to it that he was no longer spitting out his medication, which controlled though it did not cure his illness.

As he returned to a more rational view of the world, he spoke to me of a deep sense of failure and inadequacy, knowing that his friends from school were getting jobs, marrying and having children, while he sat wrapped in a blanket in the locked ward of a mental hospital. In a bid to bring success and a sense of achievement into Henry’s life, I suggested that he and I write a book about his horrible experiences as they affected him and his family. After all, he knew all too much from the inside about what it was like to suffer a psychosis and live for years in a mental hospital, things that most people regard with fear and know little about. The book – Henry’s Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, a Father and Son’s Story – comprises alternate chapters by Henry and myself and a long excerpt from my wife Jan’s diary. It was published in 2011 and became a bestseller.

Independent for more

The Long March begins

September 19th, 2017


A Communist cadre leader addressing survivors of the Long March in the 1930s PHOTO/Wikimedia Commons

Communist-nationalist alliance breaks up

The Chinese Communist Party had its origins in 1921. The shaky alliance with the Nationalist Party headed by Chiang Kaishek came to a halt on the morning of April 12th, 1927 with a feast of heads. Thousands perished. Some were shot; some beheaded; some hurled alive into the glowing furnaces of steam locomotives. So many heads were chopped off that the weary arms could hardly raise their great scimitars from their sides. What few escaped, including Zhou Enlai fled to the west to Jiangxi Province. The remoteness of Jiangxi was so great in the 1930s that the government had almost no control over this area. Roadless, as was most of China in those years, it was traversed only by mountain footpaths by people carrying bundles on their backs, horse-and-mule caravans, single file, too narrow for even carts, made Jiangxi a haven for rebellion. Everywhere flourished illiteracy, disease, poverty, and ignorance. It was here that Mao Zedong set up his new Soviet Communist zone.

The Soviet Zone in Jiangxi

For seven years the communists prospered despite everything Chiang Kaishek and his Nationalists Koumingtong (KMT) could do in The First, Second, Third, Fourth, and now the Fifth, “annihilation” campaign against the “Red Bandits” as he referred to them. Until the Fifth Campaign, the Communists had played hit-and-run. They sucked the KMT deep into their territory and sandbagged them with deadly ambushes. The Communist captured huge quantities of guns and ammunition and from the thousands of KMT prisoners, they replenished losses in their ranks. Now in the Fifth Campaign, thanks to Hitler who had dispatched one of his best Generals, Hans von Seeckt, to come to China to direct the newest tactics. Von Seeckt moved the KMT troops forward very slowly and then built concrete reinforced blockhouses and pillboxes (some 3,000 in the past year). This allowed the KMT to control every path and road. The noose was being drawn around the Red Army slowly but surely. Now the Red Army was confronting the KMT in costly head to head battles. For Chiang, the end to the Red Bandits was near at hand and he took great comfort in this.

Moscow had sent their German, Otto Braun, to advise the Chinese communist group. The Red Army was now under the leadership of Otto Braun, (Chinese name of Li De) Bo Gu, (a Moscow trained Chinese), and Zhou Enlai. Mao was not in a leadership role and had no say in the operations, military or otherwise. After a year of terrible losses (about 60,000 men), one disastrous battle after another throughout Chiang’s Fifth Campaign, the end was near. As autumn 1933 gave way to winter 1934, the Fifth Campaign chewed into Communist territory. The Soviet Republic contracted again and again. By autumn of 1934, the Communists had lost 58% of their territory. It was decided that the Red Army must leave the area in order to survive. On October 16th, the move began. No one was sure where they were heading, they were just leaving.

The Long March Begins

86,000 men and woman began the trip that would last over a year until October 19, 1935 in Yan’an in Sha’anxi Province. Some of the prominent Chinese leaders that began the Long March were Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Zhu De, Peng Dehuai, leading the Third Army Group, Lin Biao, leading the First Army Group, Nie Rongzhen, political commissar of the First Front Army, Liu Bocheng, Ye Jianying, (the preceding from Zhu to Ye would later be declared Marshals in 1955), and Li Xiannian, who would become the President of the People’s Republic of China. He Long, (also to be named a Marshal) had been sent ahead leading the Second Army Group and to-be-Marshal Chen Yi was left behind with the wounded and sick.

China Daily for more

Race v. class? More brilliant bourgeois bullshit from Ta-Nehesi Coates

September 19th, 2017


PHOTO/ David Shankbone | CC BY 2.0

Numerous correspondents sent me the latest lengthy Atlantic essay by the brilliant and eloquent but bourgeois Black Identitarian Ta-Nehesi Coates and asked for my reflections. I reluctantly agreed to read and comment on Coates’ long treatise.

“The Mind Seizes”

There is plenty to concur with and even applaud in Coates’ prolonged reflection, which bears the provocative title “The First White President.” The author is, I think, quite correct to note that that Donald Trump is a vicious white supremacist dedicated to denigrating and even erasing the legacy of the nation’s first technically Black president Barack Obama.

Also accurate, by my judgement is Coates’ view that tens of millions of, yes, deplorably racist whites voted for the ridiculously unqualified and dangerous Trump out of a nasty sense of white racial identity and redemption.

What decent person cannot agree with Coates’ matchless evocation of the sickening racial double standard that lay beneath the staid Harvard Law graduate Barack Obama’s succession by the blustering buffoon Donald Trump. Look at this splendid paragraph from Coates:

“Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a ‘piece of ass.’ The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (‘When you’re a star, they let you do it’), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.”

Yes. Also instructive is Coates’ reflection that American politicians and pundits have been agonizing over an opiate crisis that has been reducing white working-class life spans while paying little attention to the fact Black life spans remain far below those of whites. Coates is also spot-on when he notes that U.S. media since the election of Trump has been rife with kindhearted discussions of the neglected and oppressed white working-class but has little to say about the millions of poor Black people who have been left behind in the neoliberal era:

“It’s worth asking why the country has not been treated to a raft of sympathetic portraits of this ‘forgotten’ young black electorate, forsaken by a Washington bought off by Davos elites and special interests. The unemployment rate for young blacks (20.6 percent) in July 2016 was double that of young whites (9.9 percent). And since the late 1970s, William Julius Wilson and other social scientists following in his wake have noted the disproportionate effect that the decline in manufacturing jobs has had on African American communities. If anyone should be angered by the devastation wreaked by the financial sector and a government that declined to prosecute the perpetrators, it is African Americans—the housing crisis was one of the primary drivers in the past 20 years of the wealth gap between black families and the rest of the country. But the cultural condescension toward and economic anxiety of black people is not news. Toiling blacks are in their proper state; toiling whites raise the specter of white slavery… a narrative of long-neglected working-class black voters, injured by globalization and the financial crisis, forsaken by out-of-touch politicians, and rightfully suspicious of a return of Clintonism, does not serve to cleanse the conscience of white people for having elected Donald Trump. Only the idea of a long-suffering white working class can do that.”

CounterPunch for more

Analysis: Why NASA’s Cassini probe had to be destroyed

September 18th, 2017


NASA’s Cassini probe ILLUSTRATION/NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

Update: At 7:55 a.m. ET on September 15, 2017, NASA reports they received Cassini’s final transmission.

This Friday, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will execute its final maneuver, careening into Saturn’s atmosphere and melting without a trace.

“Cassini’s own discoveries were its demise.”

Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, many of them with the 20-year mission since the very start, will work feverishly to keep their beloved spacecraft alive and sending back data for as long as possible.

“Of course it’s really going to be hard to say goodbye to this plucky, capable little spacecraft that has returned all this great science,” said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker at a NASA news conference in April.

Spilker has been there for all of Cassini’s discoveries: from spotting how a hexagonal storm on Saturn’s north pole changes color with the seasons to providing insights into how Saturn’s rings formed. Perhaps most intriguing were Cassini’s discoveries off-planet, on Saturn’s moons, with the identification of methane seas on Titan and exposing the likelihood of a warm, saltwater ocean underneath Enceladus’ icy surface. Both locations carry some ingredients for life, with Enceladus showing greater potential.

So, considering Cassini’s scientific fruitfulness, why is the spacecraft being steered into a death spiral?

This fate seems a little odd, considering other spacecraft that have ventured to other worlds. Most, except those sent to an inhospitable locale like Venus, remain drifting in space. The Voyager 1 spacecraft, 20 years Cassini’s senior, still coasts through interstellar space, beaming back data from beyond the bounds of the solar system. Perhaps a lonely existence, but an existence nonetheless.

One oft-cited reason is that the Cassini spacecraft is running out of fuel. Though true that Cassini has a measly 61 of its original 6,565 pounds of propellant, this fuel is used only for reorienting its trajectory. In theory, the Cassini team could have used the last wisps of fuel to push the spacecraft into a stable orbit around Saturn. Cassini could even have still collected data, since all of its instruments run on power from a different, much more long-lived source (more on that later).

No, the real reason Cassini must die is because of an international treaty with a rule to not contaminate potentially-habitable worlds. To comply with this rule, NASA maintains an Office of Planetary Protection in order “to preserve our ability to study other worlds as they exist in their natural states; to avoid contamination that would obscure our ability to find life elsewhere — if it exists; and to ensure that we take prudent precautions to protect Earth’s biosphere in case it does.”

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