Tartan tales

July 29th, 2014


The Line of Beauty: a cloth of many moods, as well as colours, tartan is back in fashion.

Tartan, and anything else thought to inspire anti-Crown fervour in Jacobite Highlanders, was banned by the Parliament in 1746. But Colonel—later General—Gordon of Fyvie wasn’t the kind of man to pay heed to a Sassenach government. Hand on hip, sword drawn, draped in plaid – a deliberate echo of the statue of Roma he’s leaning on—his stance proclaims that Scotland will be here when all other civilisations have crumbled. Was he right? A quarter of a millennium later Britain is still clinging on to Scotland—just. And tartan is going strong.

By the 1780s the threat of a Scottish rebellion had waned and nobility on both sides of the border, feeding on notions of Highland romance, fell in love with tartan. Victoria and Albert took to the craze with gusto. After building Balmoral Castle in 1853 they decorated it, from carpet to curtain rails, in ebulliently clashing tartans, including a couple of their own design (Balmoral lavender, anyone?). These girls may look like extras in a Bela Lugosi film but are in fact two of the royal offspring. If the photo had been taken inside, they would have been indistinguishable from the sofas.

Intelligent Life for more

Blinded by Israel, visionless in Gaza

July 29th, 2014


The US Senate votes unanimously to defend Israel including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. I don’t think he did it for the money. He is a paid-up member of POEEI (‘Progressive on Everything Except Israel’ and pronounced pooee) the liberal segment of US society, which is not progressive on many things, including Israel.

Take, as one example, the case of ‘Colonel’ Sanders. I thought my late friend Alexander Cockburn was sometimes too harsh on Sanders, but I was wrong. Sanders has been arselickin bad for a long time now as Thomas Naylor informed us while exploding the myths surrounding the Senator in a CounterPunch piece in September 2011:

“Although Sanders may have once been a socialist back in the 80s when he was Mayor of Burlington, today, a socialist he is not. Rather he behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.. Since he always “supports the troops,” Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont.

Senator Sanders rarely misses a photo opportunity with Vermont National Guard troops when they are being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. He’s always at the Burlington International Airport when they return. If Sanders truly supported the Vermont troops, he would vote to end all of the wars posthaste.”

A unanimous Senate vote is rare, so what explains being more loyal to Israel than quite a few critical Jewish Israelis in that country itself? An important factor is undoubtedly money. In 2006 when the London Review of Books published an article (commissioned and rejected by the Atlantic Monthly) by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer on the Israel Lobby, there was the usual brouhaha from the usual suspects. Not the late Tony Judt, who publicly defended publication of the text and was himself subjected to violent threats and hate mail by we know who.

The New York Review of Books, perhaps shamed by its own gutlessness on this issue among others, commissioned a text by Michael Massing which pointed out some mistakes in the Mearsheimer/Walt essay but went on to provide some interesting figures himself. His article deserves to be read on its own but the following extract helps to explain the unanimous votes for Israeli actions:

One congressional staff member told me of the case of a Democratic candidate from a mountain state who, eager to tap into pro-Israel money, got in touch with AIPAC, which assigned him to a Manhattan software executive eager to move up in AIPAC’s organization. The executive held a fund-raising reception in his apartment on the Upper West Side, and the candidate left with $15,000. In his state’s small market for press and televised ads, that sum proved an important factor in a race he narrowly won. The congressman thus became one of hundreds of members who could be relied upon to vote AIPAC’s way. (The staffer told me the name of the congressman but asked that I withhold it in order to spare him embarrassment.)”

Counterpunch for more

Re-wiring the brain with light to overcome disorders

July 29th, 2014


The activity of neurons can be controlled using pulses of laser light delivered into the brain with an optical fibre PHOTO/Keystone/Henning Dalhoff /Science Photo Library)

A cutting-edge technology that could potentially combat drug addiction could also help defeat neurological disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to University of Geneva researcher Christian Lüscher.

A research team led by Lüscher used optogenetics, which combines the use of genetics and light, to show how cocaine affects the brain of a mouse, but also how the addicted animal might be cured, opening the door for a treatment for heavy drug users.

If the results of the study recently published in the journal Nature can make the jump from mice to humans, optogenetics might also be considered in the long term as a toolkit that could help overcome some neurological disorders, according to Lüscher.

Swiss Info for more

Paraguay’s President Horacio Cartes: A year later

July 28th, 2014


On April 22 2013, Horacio Cartes’ victory in the Paraguayan presidential elections marked the return of the right-wing Colorado Party to power—a position it held for 61 years before left-wing former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won office in 2008. Cartes – a political novice who had never even voted in presidential elections before running for the office and who faced accusations that his wealth was acquired by money laundering, cigarette smuggling and drug trafficking – ran on a platform promising “a new path” and economic prosperity to all.

During his swearing-in ceremony on Aug. 15, 2013 Cartes vowed to battle poverty and corruption in one of the most unequal and corrupt nations in South America. “I’m not in politics to make a career of it or become wealthier,” said Cartes. The new president promised to strengthen Paraguay’s international ties and its commitment to human rights. But economic and social progress has been slow to arrive, highlighting the challenges Cartes still needs to overcome if he is serious about setting Paraguay on a new path.

Upside Down World for more

Mary Lou Jepsen: Could future devices read images from our brains?

July 28th, 2014


Orwell alive in Palestine, Ukraine

July 28th, 2014


The other night, I saw George Orwells’s 1984 performed on the London stage. Although crying out for a contemporary interpretation, Orwell’s warning about the future was presented as a period piece: remote, unthreatening, almost reassuring. It was as if Edward Snowden had revealed nothing, Big Brother was not now a digital eavesdropper and Orwell himself had never said, “To be corrupted by totalitarianism, one does not have to live in a totalitarian country.”

Acclaimed by critics, the skillful production was a measure of our cultural and political times. When the lights came up, people were already on their way out. They seemed unmoved, or perhaps other distractions beckoned. “What a mind-fuck,” said the young woman, lighting up her phone.

Asia Times Online for more

Weekend Edition

July 25th, 2014

Chetan Bhagat’s crap on “terrorism”

July 25th, 2014


Popular author Chetan Bhagat who has been a passionate supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi snaps a selfie with him. PHOTO/Caravan Daily

Ignorance of historical background about Israel’s creation, Israeli governments’ draconian control over and inhuman treatment of Palestinians, the United States’ shameful support of Israeli crimes, the Israel Lobby‘s hold over the US Congress and government, Indian government’s policy of “enemy’s enemy is our friend,” and the news media’s propaganda of portraying Israelis as the “victims” are bound to mislead people into believing that Palestinians are the real culprits. It does not mean, however, that all the other people who are aware of the realities, to whatever degree, are going to side with the Palestinians, the real victims.

One of those is an Indian author Chetan Bhagat. It is difficult to say how much historical knowledge he has about the Israeli/Palestinian problem but it’s easy to surmise that he can’t be unaware of Israel’s heinous acts which are an universal fact. Bhagat can’t resist displaying his love for the Israeli armed forces’ bombings and killings of Palestinians and so on 16 July 2014, he tweeted:

What is happening to Gaza isn’t fair but sadly that is the only way sometimes terrorist organizations and their supporters learn to behave.

Upon realizing that his tweet is racist and is openly supportive of Israel’s crimes, he added two tweets: one advising Israeli government to stop bombing as it has made its point and the second one drawing attention to the wealthy Gulf countries’ apathy toward Gaza’s appalling condition.

In defense of Israel, Bhagat gave the following example:

“However, before you play virtuous, do imagine rockets tossed everyday on India for 10 years and what would you want your govt to do.”

The main problem with the above rubbish is that the history of both India and Israel is so totally different that the above example has no chance to stand its ground.

Israel disappeared from the world map at the beginning of the Common Era and it was only in the mid nineteenth century that the Zionist movement came into existence to demand a country for the persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe. Palestine, at that time, was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. With the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire came to an end and Britain was the new master. Britain decided in favor of creating a new state of Israel. In 1948, Israel came into existence on the land stolen from the Palestinians.

On the other hand, India’s history is totally different and has been on the world map for thousands of years.

Bhagat is good at such nonsense. In June 2013, he wrote a “Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth” in the Times of India. It was a patronizing letter in which the Muslim youth is complaining, besides other things, about politicians donning a Muslim cap to extract votes from the Muslim voters. But one cannot forget the day when his hero, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi (now India’s Prime Minister) had refused to wear a cap offered by a group of Muslims — not because of some ethical reason but out of pure hatred for Muslims.

The next time we see another selfie of Chetan Bhagat with some politician, it will probably be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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

Don’t send your kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies

July 25th, 2014


In the spring of 2008, I did a daylong stint on the Yale admissions committee. We that is, three admissions staff, a member of the college dean’s office, and me, the faculty representative—were going through submissions from eastern Pennsylvania. The applicants had been assigned a score from one to four, calculated from a string of figures and codes—SATs, GPA, class rank, numerical scores to which the letters of recommendation had been converted, special notations for legacies and diversity cases. The ones had already been admitted, and the threes and fours could get in only under special conditions—if they were a nationally ranked athlete, for instance, or a “DevA,” (an applicant in the highest category of “development” cases, which means a child of very rich donors). Our task for the day was to adjudicate among the twos. Huge bowls of junk food were stationed at the side of the room to keep our energy up.

New Republic for more

More than 100 genetic locations found to be linked to schizophrenia.

July 25th, 2014


Broad population studies are shedding light on the genetic causes of mental disorders.

Researchers seeking to unpick the complex genetic basis of mental disorders such as schizophrenia have taken a huge step towards their goal. A paper published in Nature this week ties 108 genetic locations to schizophrenia — most for the first time. The encouraging results come on the same day as a US$650-million donation to expand research into psychiatric conditions.

Philanthropist Ted Stanley gave the money to the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The institute describes the gift as the largest-ever donation for psychiatric research.

Scientific American for more.