Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Don’t dare mention Yemen

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018


PHOTO/Geopolitics Alert

AS an occasional guest on one of the dime-a-dozen talk shows that Pakistanis watch avidly every evening, I remarked that Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem was certainly condemnable. But shouldn’t Pakistanis be more concerned about the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — and Pakistan’s murky role in it? The other guest ‘experts’ froze and the anchorperson turned speechless; she subsequently called for a commercial break.

This is typical of how public discussion on Yemen is avoided. A glance at Pakistan’s TV channels and Urdu newspapers confirms the absence of news or critical discussion. While English language newspapers occasionally take a potshot, our obedient media generally echoes the civil and military establishment — which fully sides with fabulously rich Saudi Arabia against its desperately poor neighbour, Yemen.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office made its position perfectly clear on Dec 19. Just hours after Houthi rebels failed to target a royal palace in Riyadh, it rushed to offer congratulations: “The attack was successfully intercepted by the Saudi-led Coalition, by the grace of God Almighty, before it could cause any damage”.

The communique went on to condemn the “increasing frequency and ferocity of the missile strikes, targeted at innocent civilians by Houthi rebels” and declared that Pakistan stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Saudi Arabia.

Siding with those who deliberately seek to starve Yemen’s children has degraded Pakistan’s moral status.

Whether the credit actually goes to God Almighty or to Raytheon’s Patriot missile system — in which the Saudis have invested a few billion dollars — the fact is that primitive rebel rockets have done little damage to a country fortified by the US and UK defence industries. Yemen no longer has an air force or air defences left; Saudi-directed aircraft roam its skies at will.

In the last year, Yemen’s markets, schools, and hospitals have been bombed and famine is around the corner. Even sanitary systems have been destroyed and nearly a million cholera cases have been reported. According to the UN, at least 10,000 have died, with air strikes responsible for 60 per cent of casualties. Over 2.5m Yemenis have been internally displaced.

We can be amazed by Theresa May criticising Saudi Arabia for using the £4.6bn worth of weapons Britain sold to it after the Yemen war began. And it’s almost unbelievable that Donald Trump had actually demanded that Saudi Arabia end its blockade of Hudaydah port. Even this vicious white supremacist does not relish starving Yemenis en masse. These might be pangs of guilt or perhaps a reluctant move to appease international opinion.

Trump and May are, at best, hypocrites. But what shall we say about Pakistan’s damning silence on Yemen’s grade-3 humanitarian catastrophe (Syria and South Sudan are also grade-3)? The Foreign Office has not condemned Saudi-led coalition airstrikes that have deliberately targeted food and water supplies, considered a crime under the Geneva Convention. Nor has it demanded an end to the food blockade. Only the threat to Saudi royal palaces and princes has mattered.

What explains Pakistan’s support? That puny Yemen somehow threatens Saudi territorial integrity, although a claim sanctimoniously repeated from time to time, is unbelievable. The Houthis are unknown to Pakistanis.

Dawn for more

Does your country have a satellite orbiting the earth?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018


A technician putting the finishing touches on Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite AFP PHOTO/NASA/HO

See how many active satellites orbit the Earth, and to whom they belong

Just 60 years ago, there were no man-made objects above the planet Earth. Now, there are nearly 500,000 objects circling over Earth in various orbits. These include debris, inactive and active satellites.

The tiny Sputnik, which means “satellite” or “fellow traveller” in Russian, was the first artificial satellite to be launched into Earth’s orbit on October 4, 1957, and it changed the course of human history.

The 58cm diameter, 83.6kg metallic orb, with four antennae that transmitted radio pulses, launched by the Soviet Union, heralded the space race between the USSR and the US – ushering in an era of scientific advances, not only in military, but also in communications and navigation technologies.

There are approximately 1,500 active satellites currently orbiting the Earth. Modern society is heavily dependent on satellite technology, which is used for television and radio broadcasting, telephone calls, GPS navigation, mapping, weather forecasting and other functions.

Al Jazeera for more

Top 10 Inventions by African-Americans

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018


George Washington Carver in his laboratory PHOTO/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When asked to name an African-American inventor, many people might think of George Washington Carver and peanut butter. The two have gone as well together as peanut butter and jelly in many history textbooks, but it’s actually a myth that Carver came up with peanut butter. Carver’s fascination with the peanut began when he was convincing Southern farmers to adopt his method of crop rotation. Instead of growing cotton every year, which was depleting the soil, Carver urged farmers to alternate cotton with legumes, which provided nutrients to the soil. The farmers obliged, but they had no way to sell all those peanuts. Carver went into the laboratory to come up with products that would make peanuts marketable. Carver is credited with devising more than 300 different uses for peanuts, including dye, soap, coffee and ink, and his innovations provided the South with an important crop — but peanut butter wasn’t one of his ideas.

Beyond George Washington Carver, though, many people aren’t familiar with black inventors. In this article, we’ll consider 10 more notable inventions credited to African-American innovators.

Science for more

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years later: The struggle against racism, war and poverty continues

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018


Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life for the elimination of national oppression, the war policy of the Pentagon and the necessity for the lifting of the masses of people out of poverty. His assassination was a by-product of a system built on forced removals of the indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans and the super-exploitation of workers in general.

Behind the Trump veneer is a system of oppression and exploitation, which must be uprooted.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of the central figure in the movement for civil rights and peace in the United States during the 1960s.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life for the elimination of national oppression, the war policy of the Pentagon and the necessity for the lifting of the masses of people out of poverty. His assassination was a by-product of a system built on forced removals of the indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans and the super-exploitation of workers in general.

Today, some five decades later, the presidency of Donald Trump is by no means an aberration within the socio-political context of American history. The dominant choice between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart Trump during 2016 represented two sides of the same fraudulent process of maintaining the status quo.

As First Lady in the 1990s, Clinton witnessed the criminalisation of tens of millions of African Americans and Latinos. The dreaded crime bill, the effective death penalty act and other reactionary legislation would facilitate the growth of the prison-industrial-complex incarcerating even larger numbers of oppressed peoples.

Although the myth exists of economic expansion in the 1990s, the growth was illusory in the sense that it empowered the financial institutions, which ensnarled many into deeper debt both on a personal and institutional level. The following decade of the 2000s brought about the collapse of the financial matrix designed to maximise profits for the banks, insurance companies and their operatives within the private sector.

Millions were subjected to individual bankruptcies, home foreclosures and evictions. By 2008-2009, the working people of the US were forced into paying for a bailout of the same banks and corporations, which created the crisis. There was the initial $700 billion congressional gift to the financial institutions in the fall of 2008. Later came the “restructuring” of two out of three auto firms being Chrysler and General Motors. Moreover, the Federal Reserve Bank forwarded trillions [of dollars] to the banks after 2008 with the explicit purpose of saving and fortifying international finance capital.

As a result of this process wages fell, homes were lost and many municipalities suffered from drastic declines in services, the lay-off of teachers and closing of schools, along with a heightening of state repression to reinforce the imposed austerity. African American wealth, largely deriving from home ownership, fell by at least 50 percent.

Pambazuka for more

Spice: Why some of us like it hot

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018


Chillis pack fierce heat but also antimicrobial agents that could have been useful in the days before refrigeration PHOTO/Getty Images

Spicy food is about more than pleasurable pain. BBC Future investigates why we can’t say no to spice.

Human beings around the world delight in fiery foods. Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian – the cuisines that can take the roof off your mouth are numerous and flavourful.

Ranking the world’s most spicy peppers and comparing the most awe-inducing dishes is a common pastime, even if, past a certain point, the distinctions are somewhat moot. Who can say, subjectively speaking, that one Indian restaurant’s Widower Phaal, made while wearing goggles with chilis that rank about 1,000,000 on the Scoville Scale – an international measurement of pungency – is necessarily a fierier experience than the notorious Korean Suicide Burrito?

There’s plenty of burn to go around: more common dishes include vindaloo with ghost peppers and hot pot from Sichuan, where you must part a swarm of chillis bobbing in a sea of broth to fish out tender, fiery morsels of meats and vegetables.

As you savour these intense tastes, however, you may wonder, why do some cuisines compete for the title of spicy champion, while others feature barely the hint of a burn?

This is a question that has intrigued anthropologists and food historians for some time. Indeed, it’s a curious truth that places with warm climates do seem to have a heavier preponderance of hot and spicy dishes. That may have something to do with the fact that some spices have antimicrobial properties, studies have found.

In one survey of cookbooks from around the world, researchers note: “As mean annual temperatures (an indicator of relative spoilage rates of unrefrigerated foods) increased, the proportion of recipes containing spices, number of spices per recipe, total number of spices used, and use of the most potent antibacterial spices all increased.” In hot places, where before refrigeration food would have gone off very quickly, spices might have helped things keep a bit longer – or at least rendered them more palatable.

It’s also been suggested that because spicy food makes most people sweat, it might help us to cool off in hot parts of the world. The evaporative cooling effect that happens when we perspire is indeed useful in maintaining a body’s heat balance. In a very humid climate, though, it doesn’t matter how much you sweat: that evaporation won’t come to your rescue because there’s already too much moisture in the air. One study of people who drank hot water after exercise showed that they did cool down slightly more than those who drank cold water, but only in situations with low humidity. Thailand in August, that ain’t.

BBC for more

Defending Afrin

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018


Kurdish YPG fighters in Afrin, northern Syria PHOTO/KurdishStruggle/Flickr

Turkey’s war on Afrin is an attack not only on Kurdish self-determination, but on democracy and women’s liberation in the Middle East.

When thousands gathered in Afrin for the funeral procession of Barin Kobani, a woman fighter of the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), whose lifeless body was mutilated by Turkish-backed jihadist mercenaries, olive branches were reaching out of the crowd. Afrin, located at the Syrian-Turkish border and in the center of Mount Kurd, is not only known for its predominantly Kurdish population but also for its olive groves and blooming fields, surrounded by a mountainous landscape. For more than two weeks now Turkish tanks and fighter jets, accompanied by bearded men shouting “God is great” and raising their index finger, have been attacking civilian neighborhoods and positions held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in what Turkey has cynically named “Operation Olive Branch.”

According to a World Health Organization report, eighty-six civilians — including a whole family of seven — have been killed, along with two hundred wounded. More than ten thousand fled due to the bombings in one week. Kurdish sources such as the Administration of Afrin Canton Council and the head of the Afrin hospital however say the number is even higher. Turkish attacks in Afrin, which have also struck ancient sites, explicitly breach international law. Yet since the beginning of the first attacks on January 20, no outrage against this military aggression has been vocalized by a government or the international community.

“Kurds have no friends but the mountains” has become an easy refrain over the years to respond to the injustices the Kurdish people have been subjected to. But, after more than a century of atrocities, the Afrin assault still feels particular and urgent, an opportunity for meaningful solidarity before all democratic accomplishments in Northern Syria are destroyed by Turkey, her jihadist foot-soldiers, and the imperial powers. The Afrin crisis has emerged as an epitome of the region’s predicament and raises three fundamental questions: What is Turkey’s role in the historical oppression of Kurds in the region? Who today challenges them as the defenders of Afrin? And what are the geopolitics of the conflict?

Erdogan’s Targets

Whenever the Turkish government launches an “operation,” especially an “anti-terror operation,” you can be certain that Kurds will be the first ones in the crosshairs. After the June 2015 elections, when Erdo?an’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the majority it needed to form a government on its own, snap elections were announced for November 1. In the meantime, the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was terminated and a state of emergency declared in the country’s Kurdish southeast. The government, hand in hand with the military, launched so-called “cleansing operations” against supposed PKK members and targeted strongholds of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing alliance with its roots in Kurdish politics and effectively the only challenger of the AKP, in an act of collective punishment. A sizeable death toll and significant displacements were the consequence.

Jacobin for more

If you care so much about Haitians you should be asking why Oxfam was there in the first place

Monday, March 12th, 2018


Haiti’s cholera epidemic killed 7,568 people between 2010 and 2012 PHOTO/Getty

Compare the lack of interest shown by the international media, politicians and assorted celebrities to the cholera epidemic, leading to the death of thousands of Haitians, with the hysterical outrage expressed about Oxfam officials consorting with prostitutes

The earthquake that devastated Haiti on 12 January 2010, killing 220,000 people, produced a terrible and disgusting failure by those who came from abroad to help the survivors. Among these were UN soldiers from Nepal, which was then in the middle of a cholera epidemic, who brought the disease with them and allowed it to enter the rivers that provide Haitians with their drinking water.

Cholera, previously unknown on the island, killed 7,568 Haitians over the next two years, though the UN denied responsibility for the outbreak. This was despite a report by its own experts in 2012 that showed that the spread of cholera downstream from the Nepalese soldiers’ camps was predictable and avoidable. It was only in 2016 that the UN finally accepted responsibility for starting the epidemic, though it claimed legal immunity and refused to pay compensation.

Compare the lack of interest shown by the international media, politicians and assorted celebrities to this man-made calamity, leading to the death of thousands of Haitians, to the hysterical outrage expressed about Oxfam officials consorting with prostitutes in Haiti in 2011. Though nobody died in the Oxfam sex scandal, it is described as “terrible” and “heart-breaking”, words normally reserved for tragedies such as the enslavement and rape of thousands of Yazidi women by Isis in Iraq.

It would certainly be better if the Oxfam aid workers did not use prostitutes, but how high does this really rate on the Richter scale of moral turpitude? Oxfam was discreet about the punishment of those involved, as are all organisations about in-house scandals, but suddenly the word “cover-up” is used, as though we were dealing with Richard Nixon disclaiming responsibility for the Watergate burglary. This coverage of a minor scandal systematically exaggerates wrongdoings and abandons any sense of proportion in order to discredit Oxfam as a whole.

Few commentators, though bellowing their shock and sense of moral outrage, bother to ask what Oxfam was doing in Haiti at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. This was when The Times and other organs critical of the Oxfam leadership should have been devoting more attention to monitoring the morals and behaviour of their local Oxfam representatives in the capital Port-au-Prince.

Independent for more

Why are internet companies like Google in bed with cops and spies?

Monday, March 12th, 2018


IMAGE/Wikimedia Commons

It was February 18, 2014, and already dark when I crossed the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and parked my car in downtown Oakland. The streets were deserted, save for a couple of homeless men slumped in a heap against a closed storefront. Two police cruisers raced through a red light, sirens blaring.

I approached Oakland’s city hall on foot. Even from a distance, I could see that something unusual was going on. A line of parked police cars ran down the block, and news anchors and TV camera crews scampered about, jockeying for position. A large group of people milled near the entrance, a few of them setting up what looked like a giant papier-mâché rat, presumably intended as a symbol for snitching. But the real action was inside. Several hundred people packed Oakland’s ornate high-domed city council chamber. Many of them carried signs. It was an angry crowd, and police officers flanked the sides of the room, ready to push everyone out if things got out of hand.

Police would be able to punch in a location and watch it in real time or wind back the clock.

The commotion was tied to the main agenda item of the night: the city council was scheduled to vote on an ambitious $11 million project to create a citywide police surveillance hub. Its official name was the “Domain Awareness Center”—but everyone called it “the DAC.” Design specs called for linking real-time video feeds from thousands of cameras across the city and funneling them into a unified control hub. Police would be able to punch in a location and watch it in real time or wind back the clock. They could turn on face recognition and vehicle tracking systems, plug in social media feeds, and enhance their view with data coming in from other law enforcement agencies—both local and federal.

Plans for this surveillance center had been roiling city politics for months, and the outrage was now making its presence felt. Residents, religious leaders, labor activists, retired politicians, masked “black bloc” anarchists, and reps from the American Civil Liberties Union—they were all in attendance, rubbing shoulder to shoulder with a group of dedicated local activists who had banded together to stop the DAC. A nervous, bespectacled city official in a tan suit took the podium to reassure the agitated crowd that the Domain Awareness Center was designed to protect them—not spy on them. “This is not a fusion center. We have no agreements with the NSA or the CIA or the FBI to access our databases,” he said.

The hall blew up in pandemonium. The crowd wasn’t buying it. People booed and hissed. “This is all about monitoring protesters,” someone screamed from the balcony. A young man, his face obscured by a mask, stalked to the front of the room and menacingly jammed his smartphone in the city official’s face and snapped photos. “How does that feel? How do you like that—being surveilled all the time!” he yelled. A middle-aged man—bald, wearing glasses and crumpled khakis—took the podium and tore into the city’s political leaders.

The Baffler for more

Ruckus over the Taj Mahal: Monumental love–and lunacy

Monday, March 12th, 2018


PHOTO/Walls Desk

(First of two or three parts)

Part I: A Monument to Love and the Shenanigans of Yogi Adityanath

Rabindranath Tagore called it a “teardrop on the face of eternity”. He was referring to the Taj Mahal, often described in more pedestrian if less maudlin English as perhaps the world’s greatest monument to love. When one has a “monument to love”, one suspects that the narrative is no longer only about love—but let that pass, for the moment. The Government of India’s own webpage on the Taj Mahal adverts to Tagore’s characterization of the Taj as a “teardrop on the cheek of time”. If time and eternity were one and the same thing, we wouldn’t have any need for the hundreds of philosophical tomes that have been written on time and its interpretation. (I have not been able to locate the original text in Bengali, if there is one, from where the remark attributed to Tagore may have lifted.) Whatever else Tagore may have meant, I suspect that he would not have been disinclined to consider the Taj Mahal as a poem to love in stone. My late friend, Teshome Gabriel, whose own piece on “stones” dazzles and sparkles more than most diamonds, had not taken the Taj into consideration when he was writing on the life of stones.

But we have come to a different pass. Now some idiots, egged on by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, have called for the Taj’s removal if not destruction. Some are moved by the thought that the Taj Mahal sits, so they think, on top of what was once a Hindu temple; others allege that it is not “Indian” enough, by which they mean of course that there is far too much in the Taj of foreign origins. The Taj is associated, in their mind, with Muslims; and Muslims, in turn, call to their mind terror not love. To describe Adityanath and others who share his view of the Taj Mahal as philistines is to given them more credit than they deserve: their conduct partakes of the barbarous in various respects. It should be recognized, however, that some Indians are alarmed by the wholly pragmatic (and, by the yardstick of the economy-obsessed modern world, not insignificant) consideration that the Taj Mahal is India’s largest foreign and domestic revenue earner among tourist sites.

Yogi Adityanath is, speaking in something like a neutral idiom, a “colorful” character. Rascals may sometimes be colorful; the same may be said even of some rulers, otherwise alleged to be despots or even tyrants, such as Muhammad Shah ‘Rangeela’ (Emperor of Hindustan, 1719-1748) and Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh. Of Robin Hood, for instance, it may be said without much controversy that he was a colorful character. Adityanath is only colorful because he is bizarre, a firebrand, and utterly shorn of ideas and yet capable of producing mirth—though not among his followers, most of them the kind of ruffians dressed in polyester who loiter about public thoroughfares while scratching their crotches and making a nuisance of themselves. (This is not to say that there are no khadi-clad scoundrels.) Adityanath is among those “leaders” here and there who have expressed solidarity with Trump’s ban on the entry of Muslims from several nations into the US and called for India to emulate the leader of the free world, though I doubt very much that the White House has paid any attention to this militant Hindu youth leader turned into politician.

Lal Salaam for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, March 9th, 2018