Weekend Edition

September 4th, 2015

Nudists can help end a bit of consumerism

September 4th, 2015


Many of the beaches along Denmark’s 7,000 km of coastline are clothing-optional. Here at the Solbakken naturist camp site in Kirke Hyllinge, clothes are forbidden PHOTO/Lars Helsinghof/AFP/Getty Images/The Telegraph

nudist club Danske Naturister has a complaint
that beaches and few other places enough ain’t

nudity is everywhere; online, here, and there
says its head, and demands parks for fresh air

in forests and parks, they should be allowed
and for such a deed, Denmark should feel proud

to the nudists, I make many humanitarian calls
the next place they should demand should be malls

imagine naked people roaming malls and its shops
which will stir many to discard their bottoms and tops

to an increase in the nudist population, if this leads
more people will be happy because they’ll have less needs

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

Enslaved to Samuel Johnson? (book review)

September 4th, 2015


Joshua Reynolds’s supposed portrait of Francis Barber

The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The true story of the Jamaican slave who became Samuel Johnson’s heir by Michael Bundock (Yale University Press. £20 (US $35), 296pp.)

In consideration of the extraordinary life he records, Michael Bundock has given his fine biography of Francis Barber a subtitle that invokes the authenticating formula of the eighteenth-century novel: this is The true story of the Jamaican slave who became Samuel Johnson’s heir. Born on a sugar plantation in 1742/3 (the date is uncertain), the boy who later became Francis Barber was allotted the name Quashey; a generic slave name, it may also indicate he was born on a Sunday. Quashey inherited slave status, being literally the property of his master, Colonel Richard Bathurst, to sell or lend or give away. When the failure of his estates forced Bathurst to leave Jamaica, Quashey went with him along with the rest of his luggage. Was he Bathurst’s son? Perhaps, though there is no evidence to confirm this. In London, they lodged with Dr Richard Bathurst, who was the Colonel’s son and a friend of Johnson. Both men were passionate opponents of slavery. Here Quashey was baptized, receiving the name Francis Barber (the reason for the choice is unclear), his baptism possibly remitting his slavery (again, this is uncertain). Almost immediately, he was packed off to school some 250 miles away, to the small village of Barton in North Yorkshire, where his must surely have been the only black face. He returned to London two years later, at which time he joined Johnson’s household in Gough Square, Fleet Street. Already seasoned in adventures, Francis Barber was now probably around ten years old.

From the late seventeenth century, British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade led to a significant expansion of the black population of London and other port cities – Southampton, Bristol, Liverpool. Black slaves attended returning sea captains, colonial officials, merchants and plantation owners. By the time of Quashey’s arrival in 1750, London’s black community was sufficiently conspicuous (though no more than 1 per cent of the city’s population) to attract familiar modern prejudices. The numbers of black migrants were exaggerated, along with the threat they posed to the jobs and the “purity” of white Londoners. Plantation owners had much invested in fuelling these fears with articles in the newspapers, such as the piece in the London Chronicle in 1765, signed “F. Freeman”, proposing a tax on “Negroe and East-India servants, who are of late years become too abundant in this kingdom . . . . The mixture of their breed with our own ought by no means to be encouraged . . . . In their employments they . . . stand in the way of our own people”.

The Times Literary Supplement for more

Transplant surgeons revive hearts after death

September 4th, 2015


A donated heart beats outside the body while being supplied with blood and oxygen

A technology to keep organs alive outside the body is saving lives. And provoking ethical debates.

Transplant surgeons have started using a device that allows them to “reanimate” hearts from people who have recently died, and use the organs to save others.

The “heart in a box” is a wheeled cart with an oxygen supply, a sterile chamber, and tubing to clamp onto a donor heart and keep it fed with blood and nutrients. Doctors say it may extend the time a heart can last outside the body and is letting them recover hearts from donors who haven’t been eligible before.

In at least 15 cases, surgeons in the United Kingdom and Australia say they have used the system to successfully transplant hearts removed from patients after they’ve died. Typically, heart transplants only come from brain-dead donors whose hearts are cut away while their bodies are still healthy.

The $250,000 device was developed by Transmedics, an Andover, Massachusetts-based company, and is pending approval in the U.S. It could expand the number of donated hearts by between 15 percent and 30 percent, say doctors, saving the lives of people who would otherwise die from heart failure.

In the U.S. about 2,400 heart transplant occur each year, a figure that has remained essentially unchanged for 20 years.

Earlier this year, in the Lancet, surgeons at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New South Wales described three cases in which they waited as little as two minutes after a person’s heart stopped before they began removing it. Within 20 minutes, they’d attached it to the Transmedics rig, where it began beating again after being fed with oxygenated blood and electrolytes.

MIT Technology Review for more

Grassroots fascism: The war experience of the Japanese people

September 3rd, 2015


(translated and introduced by ETHAN MARK

Chinese prisoners being buried alive by the Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II PHOTO/Wikipedia

Grassroots Imperialism

When the Sino-Japanese War began on July 7th 1937, popular calls for “imperialism externally,” a desire previously well buried, suddenly came to the fore. Along with limits on freedom of expression and the manipulation of public opinion, a number of other factors began to have a determining influence on popular consciousness. There was a manner of thinking along the lines of a fait accompli: “Now that the war has started, we’d better win it.” There was a strong sense that Japan was winning the war. And by the end of 1937, Japan had dispatched some 770,000 troops, a reality that weighed heavily.

According to a national survey of thirty-eight municipalities conducted at the end of 1937 by the Cabinet Planning Board’s Industry Section, the attitude of people in farming, mountain, and fishing villages towards the war against China, summarized in terms of a single village, was divided between “the middle class and up,” who “want the war to be pursued … to the fullest (to the point that [hostilities] will not flare up again),” and “the middle class and below,” who “want it to be brought to as speedy an end as possible.”5

If we examine the calls for a speedy end to the war more closely—voices mostly from “the middle and below”—the following sorts of examples emerge with particular force.

a. “We hope that it ends quickly. (We hope that overseas development will be possible. There is only one person who does not want to leave the village and emigrate to Manchuria).”

b. “In order to extend Japan’s influence in northern China, we are planning to send out two or three of my boys.”

c. “To compensate for all the sacrifices the Imperial Army has made, [(North and Central China]) should be brought under the control of the Empire.”

d. “We hope that we’ll be able to secure considerable rights and interests.”

Each of these statements represented a hope for a swift end to the war that went hand in hand with a yearning for concrete profits or rights and interests, clearly demonstrating that a “grassroots imperialism” ideology had begun to surge among the people. The people of the town of Kawashima in Kagawa Prefecture were a representative example. Reflecting the complexity of popular attitudes, it was reported here that “if the war goes on for long it will be a problem—this is what people genuinely say. Yet on the other hand, people of all classes also say that we have to keep fighting until we win.” One said that “it would be a waste to meaninglessly give back territory people have given their lives for,” another that “the people will not accept it if we gain nothing—either land or reparations. We don’t want to give back what we’ve already spent so much money getting for no reason. Northern China alone will not do. This is the second time we’ve shed blood in Shanghai.”

Here, then, is the picture of a people who, in the midst of their difficult lives, earnestly desired to cooperate in the war because it was their “duty as Japanese,” wishing simultaneously for a swift end to the conflict and to gain privileges from it.

The Profits of War

For the soldiers and their families, conscription and deployment to the front did not bring only suffering. An examination of letters from peasant soldiers who died in battle conducted by the Iwate Prefecture Farming Villages Culture Discussion Association (Iwate ken n?son bunka kondankai) makes clear that from the moment they joined the army, peasant soldiers were liberated from time-consuming and arduous farming chores. With “a daily bath,” “fairly good” food, and “fine shoes,” they led more privileged lives than they had in their farming villages. They received salaries that they could save or send to their families. They were able to enjoy “equal” treatment without regard to their social status or their wealth or poverty. They received education and were able to improve their social standing through their own talents.6

The army was also seen to afford peasant soldiers new prospects. If one became a noncommissioned officer—a corporal or sergeant—through service in the field, the road lay open to becoming a person of influence in one’s village upon return. Soldiers were so eager to make the rank of corporal that teasing of those who remained privates sometimes led to incidents of assault.7

The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus for more

Here’s why your brain seems mostly dormant

September 3rd, 2015


IMAGE/Basic Knowledge 101

The brilliant compromise between efficiency and ability in your head.

You’ve probably heard the myth that the average person uses only 10 percent of their brain. It’s a seductive lie because it suggests that we could be more than we are. Sci-fi movies like Limitless and Lucy, whose protagonists gain super-human abilities by accessing latent mental capacities, have exploited the myth. Neuroscientists, on the other hand, have long loathed it. Eighty years of studies confirm that every part of the brain is active throughout the course of a day. Save those who have suffered serious brain injury, we use all of our brains, all of the time.

But, like many legends, the 10 percent myth also carries a grain of truth. In the last 20 years, scientists have discovered that our cortex follows a strangely familiar pattern: A small minority of neurons output the vast majority of activity. It’s not that we don’t use 90 percent of our brain, but that many neurons remain eerily quiet even during use. The story behind this silence is more profound than the boosted IQs and temporary clairvoyance from the movies. It speaks to the basic principles of how our minds represent reality in the first place.

Neurons communicate with electrical impulses called spikes. In the 1930s, scientists began to record spikes from individual neurons using small metal electrodes inserted into the brain. They observed neurons with activity rates of tens to hundreds of spikes per second, with each spike lasting a few milliseconds.1 The brain seemed to be buzzing with communication. Then in a 1968 review of microelectrode technology, the biomedical engineer David Robinson brought an important discrepancy to light. As electrodes are lowered into the brain, they should detect activity from any cell they come close to. In a typical recoding, this would theoretically amount to about 200 cells. Yet researchers were lucky to record from five cells per electrode insertion. Where were the rest of the neurons?

Nautilus for more

Leon Trotsky’s place in history

September 3rd, 2015


Leon Trotsky PHOTO/The Nation

This is a section of a lecture delivered in 2001 in Sydney, Australia. The entire lecture (“Toward a reconsideration of Trotsky’s place in the history of the 20th Century”) appears in In Defense of Leon Trotsky, which can be purchased at Mehring Books (including in pdf and epub format).

David North is the chairman of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS and national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party in the US.

Sixty years ago, on August 21, 1940, Leon Trotsky died from wounds that had been inflicted by an agent of the Soviet secret police one day earlier. The Stalinist regime hoped that this murder would not only end the political activities of its greatest opponent, but also eradicate his place in history. Totalitarian pragmatism proved to be shortsighted in its calculations. The killer ended Trotsky’s life. But the ideas and the writings of the great revolutionary lived on. Murdering Trotsky did not bring to an end the political work of the world movement that he had founded. The Fourth International, as it turned out, lived to see the collapse of the Stalinist regime. It follows, of course, that the assassination failed to remove Trotsky from history. As historians study and interpret the twentieth century, the figure of Leon Trotsky looms ever larger. In few other lives were the struggles, aspirations and tragedies of the last century reflected so profoundly and nobly as in that of Trotsky. If we accept as true the observation of Thomas Mann that, “In our time the destiny of man presents itself in political terms,” then it can be said that in the sixty years of Trotsky’s life, destiny found its most conscious realization. The biography of Leon Trotsky is the concentrated expression of the vicissitudes of the world socialist revolution during the first half of the twentieth century.

Three years before his death, in a discussion with a skeptical American journalist, Trotsky explained that he saw his life not as a series of bewildering and ultimately tragic episodes, but as different stages in the historical trajectory of the revolutionary movement. His rise to power in 1917 was the product of a revolutionary upsurge of the working class. For six years his power depended on the social and political relations created by that offensive. The decline in Trotsky’s personal political fortunes flowed from the ebbing of the revolutionary wave. Trotsky lost power not because he was less skilled a politician than Stalin, but because the social force upon which his power was based—the Russian and international working class—was in political retreat. Indeed, Trotsky’s historically conscious approach to politics—so effective during the revolutionary years—placed him at a disadvantage vis-à-vis his unscrupulous adversaries during a period of growing political conservatism. The exhaustion of the Russian working class in the aftermath of the Civil War, the growing political power of the Soviet bureaucracy and the defeats suffered by the European working class—particularly in Germany—were, in the final analysis, the decisive factors in Trotsky’s fall from power.

World Socialist Web Site for more

The language of class in china

September 2nd, 2015


Super Brand Mall, Shanghai, China PHOTO/China Travel Blogs


Over half a century after the 1949 revolution, China is again being radically transformed, this time from a variant of state socialism to a variant of state capitalism. The country’s double path dependency – on the one hand, from pre-reform Chinese socialism, and on the other, from its newly endorsed globalization – distorts or limits its transition to capitalism, a transition project that is no longer tentative or politically hidden. Yet this project still cannot be openly embraced in official statements due to the enshrined commitment of the People’s Republic to socialism and the enduring attachment of the Chinese people to revolutionary and socialist traditions. This peculiar disjunction causes some extraordinary difficulties, not just in the articulation of class politics, but also in the way class politics operate in practice.

The weakness, if not the complete absence, of an independent working class movement in China cannot be explained by repression alone. Multiple impediments to class consciousness and stronger labour mobilization arise from contradictory social changes and their confusing messages. In people’s subjective perceptions, when the ambiguity involved in a ‘socialist’ state taking a capitalist path is set aside, the contrast between visible gains in material prosperity and past scarcity hampers even the most ardent critics of the market transition. Such contradictions function dialectically to stabilize an otherwise crisis-ridden process, in the context of a formerly (and officially still) communist party undergoing a profound self-transformation.

The refusal of the language of class, to be discussed in this essay, is a titanic act of symbolic violence on the part of the Chinese state, committed as part of a political strategy to make way for ‘reform and opening’. The tactic is also evident in official phrases such as ‘socialist market economy’, ‘primary socialist stage’, or ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ – all of them largely devoid of socialist content. By the same token, China’s working men and women need an alternative vocabulary as a politico-ideological weapon for articulating their situations and demands. At issue is thus not only the way the concept of class is diluted or muted in China’s de-revolutionized polity; it is also about the way in which the lack of a language of class based counter-hegemony helps to explain the lack of counter-hegemonic organizational capacity. To say this is not to endorse the views of those who imagine that class conflicts can somehow be overcome outside the realm of political economy. The damage caused by the kind of identity politics which involves discursive political attacks on ‘class essentialism’ are manifest. The alarming retreat from both gender equality and ethnic peace in China, following the imposed denial of class, makes this powerfully clear. In that light class continues to be what the renewal of a multi-dimensioned, universal struggle for liberation ultimately depends on.

Socialist Register for more

Boni Karde Ma

September 2nd, 2015


Boni Karde Ma by PRITI GULATI COX – gouache, graphite, embroidery, acrylic and pigments 32″ x 24″

The massive retail sector in India that is the livelihood of millions of people is being threatened by privatization. More and more shopping malls and supermarkets are sprouting up all over the country and directly affecting the small traders, shop owners, artisans, hawkers, street vendors, etc.

The title of this work signifies the superstition among the vendor community, where boni, the first sale of the day, is considered lucky, and the belief that once that sale is made, the rest of the day will be productive. Often they will plead with the customer early in the day for their first sale.

The colored face on the board is called nazar bandh. Variations of this image are usually hung outside shops and believed to keep the evil eye at bay.

Vanishing India for separate and enhanced parts of this painting and more work by Priti Gulati Cox.

Nude in the city: Undressing taboos in Switzerland

September 2nd, 2015


PHOTO/Keystone/Stefan Meyer

How are some people able to shrug off society’s expectations and walk around completely naked on the streets of a city, while others are self-conscious to the point of developing a negative body image, which can lead to serious problems? This week’s podcast gets up close and personal with the Swiss take on the nude body.

Swiss Info for more