Weekend Edition

December 19th, 2014

Pakistanis have been chutzpahed

December 19th, 2014


Women mourn their relative, one of the 148 people killed in a TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. PHOTO/Zohra Bensemra/Reuters/BBC/Google

In one of the scenes in Vishal Bhardwaj’s great film Haider, the hero asks the crowd gathered in a square the meaning of the Yiddish word “chutzpah.” He then explains Kashmir’s tragedy by giving an example of chutzpah. He says a guy enters a bank and points a gun at the teller’s head and threatens to either hand over the money or get killed. He takes the money and goes to the other counter and tells the teller there, excuse me, can I have a form, I want to open an account. The film’s hero then comes to the main point: “We [the people of Kashmir] have been chutpahed [by the governments of India and Pakistan].” (The film has got the pronunciation of chutzpah wrong. The correct pronunciations are here, here and here. Unless it was intentional, which I doubt it very much.)

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Since last three days, the Pakistanis must be experiencing the same feeling as Haider; they have been chutpahed.

On December 16, some members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP dressed in army fatigues carried out an attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Altogether 148 people died. Out of those, 132 were children, all between the ages of 13 and 16. The number of injured was 121. Many of the dead and injured children belonged to the army people. It was a barbaric act carried out in an extremely ghastly manner. Many of the students were lined up and were shot to death. The principal who offered herself in place of children was shot and then burned to death.

Here are three examples to get an idea as to how the Pakistanis have been chutzpahed.

Hafiz Saeed, leader of a banned Islamic group Jamat-ud-Dawa and prime suspect in the Mumbai terror attacks. PHOTO/AP/Hindu

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a well known terrorist, is believed to be the mastermind behind many terror attacks. He lives in Pakistan under the protection of one or more of the many establishments. Yes, Pakistan has no central authority but there are many power centers such as the military, the Inter Services Intelligence or ISI, the elected government, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and so on. Saeed has blamed India for the school massacre!

The TTP released several photos of the terrorists who were behind Tuesday’s horrible act. The following two photographs show them in regular clothes and in army clothes.

The photographs show the six heavily armed men wearing both traditional clothing of Taliban fighters and the Pakistan military uniforms they wore to avoid suspicion before storming the school. The white banner they pose in front of is the flag of the Pakistani Taliban and reads: ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger’ PHOTO/Daily Mail

Releasing photos? Now this is called shameless bravado. The reason the TTP spokesman gave for the killing of innocent children and adults was that it was a revenge attack for the army’s killing of their friends and family members. The army is ruthless, no doubt about that. But then can the killing of innocent people be justified? What about the attacks on Shias and Ahmadis? They had done no harm to the Talibans.

Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi at a rally in Muzaffarabad, in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, on June 28, 2008. PHOTO/Roshan Mughal / Associated Press/Los Angeles Times

Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was in prison for his suspected role behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Just two days after the Taliban attack, the court granted him the bail.

It is the atmosphere of fear that these terrorists are either not arrested or if arrested they are then granted bail.

The mother of all chutzpahs will be if those military people who lost their children or relatives on Tuesday decide to wage an all out war against the Taliban. On 16 December 1971, Pakistan lost its eastern wing after a bitter war with its own people. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. But now if the terrorism is rooted out completely, it will be a chutzpah, a good one, of course.

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

Violence against women: We must end this scourge

December 19th, 2014


As a young woman in her 20s, I am deeply concerned by the inhuman treatment of women worldwide. I try my best not to be very emotional about the mistreatment that women face, but I live it every day. Because of the dress with which I choose to express myself, I get stopped and harassed. Because of my principle to empower and educate myself before I am married, I get judged and reminded constantly that I should settle down; meanwhile, the same expectation and judgment don’t apply to men of the same age. Because of my strong opinions against patriarchy, I am labelled as a man-hater or Westerner-wannabe. My Ethiopian identity is put on trial due to my understanding of womanhood and my take on feminism that is seen as an influence of Western culture. This is the reality for most, if not all, young women in Ethiopia—whether they are from the capital Addis Ababa or live in other parts of the country.

Pambazuka News for more

Suitable technologies opens store staffed only by robots

December 19th, 2014


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But this week, for the first time, I went into a store in which the members of the sales staff weren’t only identified by their hometowns, they were actually working from their hometowns, via telepresence robots. Their names and locations appeared on their screens, and on the day I visited there were employees based in at least three different states.

Other than that, my visit to the Beam store at 425 University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto seemed like a completely ordinary retail experience. It was Monday—a generally slow day in this area—and there were few customers, so two of the staff members, Ben Day from in Brooklyn and Alexa Inga in Clayton, Calif.—or actually their robots—were standing just outside the front of the store, idly chatting.

Spectrum for more

Slavery and capitalism

December 18th, 2014


IMAGE/Matt Roth/The Chronicle Review

Few topics have animated today’s chattering classes more than capitalism. In the wake of the global economic crisis, the discussion has spanned political boundaries, with conservative newspapers in Britain and Germany running stories on the “future of capitalism” (as if that were in doubt) and Korean Marxists analyzing its allegedly self-destructive tendencies. Pope Francis has made capitalism a central theme of his papacy, while the French economist Thomas Piketty attained rock-star status with a 700-page book full of tables and statistics and the succinct but decisively unsexy title Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press).

For the first half of the 19th century, slavery was at the core of the American economy. The South was an economically dynamic part of the nation (for its white citizens); its products not only established the United States’ position in the global economy but also created markets for agricultural and industrial goods grown and manufactured in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. More than half of the nation’s exports in the first six decades of the 19th century consisted of raw cotton, almost all of it grown by slaves. In an important book, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Harvard University Press, 2013), Johnson observes that steam engines were more prevalent on the Mississippi River than in the New England countryside, a telling detail that testifies to the modernity of slavery. Johnson sees slavery not just as an integral part of American capitalism, but as its very essence. To slavery, a correspondent from Savannah noted in the publication Southern Cultivator, “does this country largely—very largely—owe its greatness in commerce, manufactures, and its general prosperity.”

The profits accumulated through slave labor had a lasting impact. Both the Browns and the Taylors eventually moved out of commodities and into banking. The Browns created an institution that partially survives to this day as Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co., while Moses Taylor took charge of the precursor of Citibank. Some of the 19th century’s most important financiers—including the Barings and Rothschilds—were deeply involved in the “Southern trade,” and the profits they accumulated were eventually reinvested in other sectors of the global economy. As a group of freedmen in Virginia observed in 1867, “our wives, our children, our husbands, have been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locate upon. … And then didn’t we clear the land, and raise the crops of corn, of tobacco, of rice, of sugar, of every thing. And then didn’t the large cities in the North grow up on the cotton and the sugars and the rice that we made?” Slavery, they understood, was inscribed into the very fabric of the American economy.

Craig Steven Wilder has shown in Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (Bloomsbury, 2013) how Brown and Harvard Universities, among others, drew donations from merchants involved in the slave trade, had cotton manufacturers on their boards, trained generations of Southern elites who returned home to a life of violent mastery, and played central roles in creating the ideological underpinnings of slavery.

The Chronicle of Higher Education for more

via Arts & Letters Daily

2B or not 2B

December 18th, 2014



From Plato’s cave to the holographic principle

December 18th, 2014


Remember Plato’s allegory about the cave? Prisoners, chained inside a cave, sit facing a blank wall with a fire lit behind. All they know of the world is through shadows cast on the wall, by whatever it is that moves between them and the fire. The entirety of their knowledge is constructed from observations of these moving silhouettes. For them, reality consists of flat images, devoid of color and and (three-dimensional) form.

But of course the fallacy must be exposed, and so one prisoner somehow breaks free of his shackles. He turns and sees the fire, and the objects that cast the shadows. Suddenly, he is confronted with things far more complex than he could have conceived, with qualities he lacks the vocabulary to describe. Should he venture out of the cave, his confusion and disorientation increases by several orders of magnitude. Bathed in light and color, he is assaulted by the unfamiliar sensory richness that surrounds him. Were he now told that he had been harboring a delusion his entire life, and that this is in fact reality, he would have a hard time wrapping his mind around it.

The point of this story, of course, is that we are prisoners of our experience. Imagination helps us explore extrapolations and combinations of the familiar, but what if there are things that lie beyond our ken? Who’s to say that what we perceive isn’t just a sliver of the whole truth? Plato’s millennia old allegory remains relevant, because even now we are haunted by the insecurity that we might be missing out – that the universe is more than we can know. So here’s an interesting twist: what if our perception adds a dimension, instead of slicing it out? How could that happen? Let me give you an example.

3 Quarks Daily for more

Why did top scientific journals reject this Dr. Bronner’s ad? Seeds of truth: Vandana Shiva and the New Yorker; Gunning for Vandana Shiva

December 17th, 2014

Why Did Top Scientific Journals Reject This Dr. Bronner’s Ad?


Vandana Shiva PHOTO/Yes

Bronner wrote his essay in response to Michael Specter’s recent New Yorker takedown of anti-GMO crusader Vandana Shiva. He first published his critique on Huffington Post, and then decided to publish it as an ad in a variety of high-profile magazines, because he felt that The New Yorker is highly influential among liberal elites, and he wanted to get his dissenting view out, he told me.

Science was close to accepting it, emails shared with me by Bronner show—an ad sales manager for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which published the magazine, emailed on September 15 that she would send over paper work “in a bit,” adding that “[a]fter you sign it, I can take your credit card info by phone and submit to accounting.” The price: $9,911.00. But hours later, she wrote back, squashing the deal:

Sorry to say there has [been] a reversal opinion. This has gone up the ladder quite far and our CEO along with the board have come back saying that we cannot accept the ad. We’re concerned about backlash from our members and potentially getting into a battle with the GMO industry.

Mother Jones for more

Seeds of truth: Vandana Shiva and the New Yorker


(A response to the article ‘Seeds of Doubt’ by Michael Specter in The New Yorker)

I am glad that the future of food is being discussed, and thought about, on farms, in homes, on TV, online and in magazines, especially of The New Yorker’s caliber. The New Yorker has held its content and readership in high regard for so long. The challenge of feeding a growing population with the added obstacle of climate change is an important issue. Specter’s piece, however, is poor journalism. I wonder why a journalist who has been Bureau Chief in Moscow for The New York Times and Bureau Chief in New York for the Washington Post, and clearly is an experienced reporter, would submit such a misleading piece. Or why The New Yorker would allow it to be published as honest reporting, with so many fraudulent assertions and deliberate attempts to skew reality.

Independent Science News for more

Gunning for Vandana Shiva


Perhaps nothing symbolizes the decline of the New Yorker magazine more than the hatchet job on Vandana Shiva that appears in the latest issue. Written by Michael Specter, the author of “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress”, the article is a meretricious defense of genetically modified organisms (GMO) relying on one dodgy source after another. This is the same magazine whose reputation was at its apex when Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking articles on DDT appeared in 1962. If DDT was once a symbol of the destructive power of chemicals on the environment, GMO amounts to one of the biggest threats to food production today. It threatens to enrich powerful multinational corporations while turning farmers into indentured servants through the use of patented seeds. Furthermore, it threatens to unleash potentially calamitous results in farmlands through unintended mutations.

Counterpunch for more

Ayad Akhtar, a master Muslim ironist

December 17th, 2014


Brutal charm: Usman Ally and Justin Kirk in The Invisible Hand. PHTO/The Guardian

yad Akhtar’s new play The Invisible Hand opened this week at the New York Theatre Workshop. When the lights come on, you see a man sitting in a chair while close to him stands a bearded guard with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back. The seated man is an American banker being held by jihadists somewhere near Karachi. In the opening scene, the prisoner is holding out his hands for the other man to clip his nails, which the latter accomplishes not without some tenderness.

The Invisible Hand plays with that familiar anxiety but surprises us with a different reality. Even a man hidden in a room is able to move money with the help of a mouse. As we discover in the play, the American banker must trade shares to earn his $10m ransom. In hiding he preaches the sermon of Bretton Woods: “Countries that can’t trade with one another go to war against each other”. The rest of the play is an exploration of the logic of the “free market” and its devastating impact in a country like Pakistan.

The Guardian for more

The greys of religious bigotry

December 17th, 2014


Storming through Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has “resurrected” the Caliphate, de-claring the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new caliph and calling on Muslims around the world to swear loyalty to him. This latest outcome of the Arab Spring is one that western com-mentators did not predict. At the outset, the Arab Spring was welcomed for over-throwing autocratic governments. It was also almost implicitly assumed that these governments would then be re-placed with secular, liberal dispensa-tions modelled after present-day west-ern polities. After all, this was what mo-dernity was all about, right? As it turns out, this belief in the absolute telos of modernity was quite misplaced and the Arab Spring turned not to “European” secularism but to Islamism.

Economic & Political Weekly for more

(Thanks to Mukul Dube)