Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lenin’s back to the drawing board moment

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017


‘Lenin Proclaims Soviet Rule to Second All Russia Congress of Soviets, 25 October 1917’, Vladimir Alexandrovich Serov (1910-68) PHOTO/Sovfoto/UIG/Getty

‘Ours is a workers’ state with a bureaucratic twist,’ Lenin said in 1921, aware the revolution was already off course. But there was nothing he, nor the best of the Bolsheviks, could do about it.

Conservative historians, keen to discredit the very idea of revolution, believe the October Revolution was inherently flawed; according to Dominique Colas, ‘mass repression was not an accident or a response to a difficult situation, but an integral part of Lenin’s plan’. Their leftwing colleagues emphasise the circumstances that drove the Bolsheviks to use coercive measures — adopted in haste, without a proper plan and intended as temporary — to defend the revolution against the White armies, foreign forces and peasant uprisings. They believe the dark Stalinist era that followed had little to do with the communist project itself, and everything to do with civil war.

Lenin’s choices were widely discussed during his lifetime, even before they began to trouble historians in their libraries. Inside and outside the Communist Party, some justified them as dictated by the political and military emergencies of the time; others were quick to denounce them as a slide into authoritarianism. There were three crossroads moments during the revolution, at which a choice had to be made between the use of force, democracy or state authority to further the revolutionary process: the seizure of power by armed insurrection in October 1917, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, and the repression of the sailors’ uprising at Kronstadt in 1921.

Only a few months after the overthrow of the tsarist regime, in the middle of a global conflict and after the establishment of a provisional government, the idea that the Bolsheviks should take power by armed force was gaining support. The worker grassroots of the Communist Party, and army conscripts outraged by the pursuit of the war, were pushing for it. Lenin, initially taken by surprise,began to defend this option in the Central Committee. The radicalisation of the Bolsheviks, in tune with the political atmosphere, scared other socialist forces — the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (Left SRs) and (…)

Le Monde Diplomatique for more

A historiographical account of Mughal India

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017


Mughal princes Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad Bakhsh circa 1637

Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur could not have known that the Mughal dynasty that he founded in India would come to be seen as a symbol of the Muslim or Islamic power in South Asia. In retrospect, he is seen in many ways much like his descendant, Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal emperor. Both are perceived as religious zealots out to convert the Hindus and wage jihad against them.

As American researcher and writer Audrey Truschke points out in her book Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, rallies organised by the Hindu right wing in contemporary India hurl vitriol at both Babur and Aurangzeb, referring to the Indian Muslims as their descendants. She is right to point out that social media today is obsessed with Aurangzeb. One could add that the arguments between the Indians and the Pakistanis about his legacy also include a comparison between him and his great-grandfather Akbar — the latter is portrayed as a liberal emperor who was able to Indianise his rule and the former as the overly pious hardliner. As Truschke is at pains to point out in her very accessible book, that is hardly the case.

She uses a variety of sources to show us a picture in which Aurangzeb, often accused of having engaged in large-scale destruction of Hindu temples, left many temples in his territories untouched. For Truschke, his moves were about realpolitik and had reasons that could be religious but not necessarily Islamic. He, for instance, razed temples where some Brahmin priests were known to dupe the masses by giving them a skewed interpretation of the scriptures. In India’s syncretic society of the Mughal era, this would mean that both the Hindus and the Muslims could be affected by the teachings of these Brahmin priests. Technically, this is a religious reason for destroying temples but it does not show Aurangzeb as the Islamist bigot that the popular accounts would have us believe he was.

Similarly, the advice he gave to his sons about how to live a good and pious life included certain cultural practices that he knew to be of Hindu origin. In other words, in his personal life and in the decisions he took as a king, he was not as rigidly orthodox as his popular image suggests.

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Inside SynTouch, the mad lab giving robots the power to feel

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017



When you think about it, touch is a bizarre sense. Unlike sound or light, tactile properties can be difficult to quantify. You can measure decibels or lumens, but touch is a subjective sense with subjective descriptions, like rough or squishy or cold.

Subjective until now, that is. A company called SynTouch, which spun out of the University of Southern California, has created a robotic fingertip that rubs a material and precisely measures the “feel” of it in 15 dimensions, ranging from coarseness to coolness. And that’s pivotal for a future in which robots interact closely with humans. Our sense of touch allows us to grip a water bottle gently and a crowbar more firmly, and the robots need to do the same. We wouldn’t want them crushing dishes and chairs and skulls, now would we?

This robot finger doesn’t feel the world like yours, which relies on nerves. Embedded in a dome shape are 19 super-sensitive electrodes, over which a skin of silicon is stretched. The space in between is then injected with saline. So when you press the finger against something, the electrodes measure the changing resistance through the saltwater. The robot can sense how much pressure it’s applying, and quantify the give of the material it’s applying pressure to.

To measure texture, the finger monitors for vibrations. “So if I slide over a textured surface like my suit jacket, you’ll see these high frequency oscillations that are essentially the texture that you get,” says SynTouch CEO and co-founder Gerald Loeb. “If I slide it over a different surface there would be a different pattern of vibrations which I could analyze to say the difference between, for instance, the wool of my jacket and the cotton of my shirt.”

This thing measures temperature, too—and with more subtlety than you might think. Now, the reason a tile floor feels colder than carpet isn’t that they’re different temperatures. Even if they’re both room temperature, the tile will feel colder because it transfers heat from your bare foot faster than the carpet. SynTouch’s finger measures not just a material’s temperature, but its perceived temperature, by precisely measuring this rate of heat transfer.

Wired for more

Why you should not imitate Bill Gates if you want to be rich

Monday, October 16th, 2017


Top performers’ success may have more to do with great timing than great talent.

Bill Gates is a lot luckier than you might realise. He may be a very talented man who worked his way up from college dropout to the top spot on the list of the world’s richest people. But his extreme success perhaps tells us more about the importance of circumstances beyond his control than it does about how skill and perseverance are rewarded.

We often fall for the idea that the exceptional performers are the most skilled or talented

We often fall for the idea that the exceptional performers are the most skilled or talented. But this is flawed. Exceptional performances tend to occur in exceptional circumstances. Top performers are often the luckiest people, who have benefited from being at the right place and right time. They are what we call outliers, whose performances may be examples set apart from the system that everyone else works within.

Many treat Gates, and other highly successful people like him, as deserving of huge attention and reward, as people from whom we could learn a lot about how to succeed. But assuming life’s “winners” got there from performance alone is likely to lead to disappointment. Even if you could imitate everything Gates did, you would not be able to replicate his initial good fortune.

For example, Gates’s upper-class background and private education enabled him to gain extra programming experience when less than 0.01% of his generation then had access to computers. His mother’s social connection with IBM’s chairman enabled him to gain a contract from the then-leading PC company that was crucial for establishing his software empire.

Top performers are often the luckiest people, who have benefited from being at the right place and right time

This is important because most customers who used IBM computers were forced to learn how to use Microsoft’s software that came along with it. This created an inertia in Microsoft’s favour. The next software these customers chose was more likely to be Microsoft’s, not because their software was necessarily the best, but because most people were too busy to learn how to use anything else.

Microsoft’s success and market share may differ from the rest by several orders of magnitude but the difference was really enabled by Gate’s early fortune, reinforced by a strong success-breeds-success dynamic. Of course, Gates’s talent and effort played important roles in the extreme success of Microsoft. But that’s not enough for creating such an outlier. Talent and effort are likely to be less important than circumstances in the sense that he could not have been so successful without the latter.

A magic number?

One might argue that many exceptional performers still gained their exceptional skill through hard work, exceptional motivation or “grit”, so they do not deserve to receive lower reward and praise. Some have even suggested that there is a magic number for greatness, a ten-year or 10,000-hour rule. Many professionals and experts did acquire their exceptional skill through persistent, deliberate practices. In fact, Gates’ 10,000 hours learning computer programming as a teenager has been highlighted as one of the reasons for his success.

BBC for more

Russiagate targets black people

Monday, October 16th, 2017


“Every charge leveled against Vladimir Putin is a sinister projection of the American rap sheet.”

There is no last refuge for the scoundrels intent on stoking cold and possibly hot war against Russia. Neocons in both parties and the corporate media have all spent years demonizing Russia’s president even as they commit and abet horrific crimes against humanity at home and abroad. Every charge leveled against Vladimir Putin is a sinister projection of the American rap sheet. That is just one reason the so-called Russiagate story won’t be allowed to die.

The latest and most shameful charge is that Russia has targeted black Americans in an effort to “sow division” in the United States via social media. We are told that the Russian government spent a grand total of $100,000 to undermine the election and American society. Twitter and Facebook posts on issues ranging from the second amendment to police murder are now said to be tools of Russian espionage.

The cynical plot kills several birds with one stone. Democrats can explain away their dismal electoral failures. Democrats and Republicans make the case for imperialism. Now a phony concern for the plight of black Americans will be the rationale for targeting not only the Russian government, but all leftists in this country. From the Propornot campaign to changes in search engine algorithms, leftists and even progressive Democrats are being censored. That attack is committed under the guise of fighting Vladimir Putin and the effort is completely bipartisan.

“Black people must not defend the system which oppresses them.”

Corporate giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google go along with the war party. Facebook initially showed little concern regarding the flimsy charges, but Democratic Senator Mark Warner raced off to Facebook headquarters to demand they find something. Facebook complied and is now fully on board with censorship under the guise of fighting Russia.

Now black people are being used in the propaganda effort. A neocon unit called Alliance for Securing Democracy has taken it upon itself to decide who is or isn’t a Russian operative. Led by right wingers like Bill Kristol, Michael Chertoff and Michael Morrell, professional propagandists and former CIA directors ask us to accept their determinations about who is or isn’t working for Russia. Whatever the truth about these social media ads, black people must not defend the system which oppresses them.

There is no American democracy left to undermine anyway. America is not a democracy and nothing proves it like the police killing three people every day or the fact that one million black people are held behind bars in this country.

The United States military budget is ten times the size of Russia’s. It is the United States that invaded Iraq and killed one million people. The United States destroyed Libya and attempted the same in Syria. The president of Ukraine was elected into office but the United States used its power to undermine that country and install neo-Nazis into office.

“From the Propornot campaign to changes in search engine algorithms, leftists and even progressive Democrats are being censored.”

Americans regularly undermine their own electoral process without any prompting from foreign countries. The Republican Party is committed to keeping black people from voting, and it is they who attempted to hack election results in North Carolina in 2016. It is the Democrats who say little about their most loyal constituency losing voting rights through felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws and outright vote theft through electronic means.

The Root may join the Democratic Party effort and claim that the Kremlin “never loved black people” but the Russian Federation is under no obligation to prove anything of the sort. Black people were not chattel slaves in Russia and didn’t create a financial powerhouse through unpaid labor in that country as they did here in the United States. It is in this country that the full power of racism and capitalism keep us under literal physical control.

Black Agenda Report for more

Editor Gauri Lankesh’s murder hits rights & freedoms in India

Monday, October 16th, 2017


Well-known Indian journalist and editor Gauri Lankesh was gunned down on Sept 5, 2017, by unidentified assailants. Her assassination comes on the heels of murders of M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, and Narendra Dabholkar – all outspoken critics of right-wing Hindu nationalists, killed in a similar fashion in direct retaliation of their challenging caste and majoritarian tyranny. Their killers are still at large.

Gauri Lankesh’s murder has generated unprecedented and widespread demonstrations and vigils across India, and protests on social media too, as Hindutva (Hindu-nationalist militant) forces and their supporters ratchet up their vigilante violence, attacks and lynching of minorities, lower castes and tribal people they accuse of being ‘anti-national’ and against Hindu tradition, and staff educational institutions only with those who further their agenda of turning India into a fascist, authoritarian state not unlike Germany under the Nazis.

The New York Times wrote recently that the BJP government “has let a climate of mob rule flourish in India, with (its) right-wing Hindu supporters vilifying secularists,” adding: “The venom that reactionary social media trolls direct at journalists, or “presstitutes” as they call them, is especially vicious….”

We, in Montreal, condemn and mourn the assassination of Gauri Lankesh. We call on the Government of India to ensure that the Constitutional Freedoms of the Press and of Expression, and the Rights of Dissent, be fully enforced across the country. We demand that the assassins of Gauri Lankesh and others, as well as their sponsors, be tried in court. We demand that the Government of Canada press the Government of India to honour and respect these rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Alternatives International for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Safdar is a communalist par excellence

Friday, October 13th, 2017


PML-N leader retired Captain Muhammad Safdar (son-in-law of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif) spewing hatred against Pakistan’s victimized Ahmadi minority in the National Assembly on October 10, 2017 PHOTO/Dawn

thieves, communalists, and bigots rule the world stage
and want to see their minorities assigned to the cage

Pakistan has mistreated its minorities in a brutal way
ex premier Nawaz Sharif tried not to see them as prey

politics is mostly involved when politicians do things
so he must have expected in return some vote strings

“In my personal view, we are all are equal,” he said
people belonging to all religions are one, Sharif pled

but his son-in-law is a communalist, a hard core one
who uses religious card with venom and shame none

he’s anti-Ahmadi, a Muslim minority declared Muslim non
in NA, he spewed hatred against them and went on and on

“Because theirs is a false religion, in which there is no
concept of jihad for Allah,” so we should shun them, you know

as if Pakistan has not experienced enough of the jihad shit
this bastard wants Ahmadis to wage Jihad and fall in Godly pit

Sharif renamed the physics center for an Ahmadi Dr Abdus Salam
Safdar stayed quiet for a while but has now lost his calm

he has been talking against Ahmadi Muslims for a long time
back in 2012, he had joined religious nuts to emit hate slime

from Pakistan, Salam was one of the two Nobel laureates* to emerge
but there is another reason behind Safdar’s Islamic/patriotic surge

he’s under investigation on corruption charges and so the attack
women and minorities are the easiest targets without fear of a flack

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

*(Another Pakistani Nobel Prize winner is Malala Yousafzai who shared the peace prize with India’s Kailash Satyarthi.)

The significance of Marx’s theory of money

Friday, October 13th, 2017


IMAGE/Good Reads

The highly abstract formulation of Marx’s theory of money in Capital, Volume I is just the first step of a materialist analysis of concrete monetary phenomena. His concrete analysis of monetary phenomena in Capital, Volume III has remarkable resonance in today’s world. While Marx emphasised the primacy of production, he saw capitalist dynamics as being deeply entwined with money and finance.

Marx’s theory of money was integral to his analysis of capitalist dynamics. The rich potential of Marx’s analysis of money has, unfortunately, not received the attention it deserves both by political economists and by those who have been inspired by Marx’s political vision.

One problem is that Marx has for a long time been regarded simply as a “theoretical metallist” (Schumpeter 1954: 288). His highly abstract formulation of the origins of money in the commodity form, as “commodity-money,” has been seen as largely irrelevant to contemporary capitalism where money no longer takes the shape of a commodity like gold or silver but is tied/linked to the monetary liability of the state. But Marx’s copious notes from a wide array of sources from newspapers, journals like the Economist, to parliamentary reports on Commercial Distress and the Banking Act, are evidence that he engaged deeply not only with the monetary theorists of his time (including David Ricardo, Thomas Tooke and John Fullerton) but also with the concrete institutional workings and social foundations of the financial system. The precise link between money and the credit system in Marx’s framework thus needs elaboration.

A second difficulty arises in that Marx never fully fleshed out his analysis of the credit system. Part Five of Capital, Volume III, which brings together Marx’s writings on the credit system, was edited by Friedrich Engels posthumously. Engels bemoaned the fact that there was no “finished draft or even an outline plan to be filled in, but simply the beginning of an elaboration which petered out more than once in a disordered jumble of notes, comments and extract materials” (Marx 1981: 94). In this sense, Marx’s writings on the credit system in Volume III are as Brunhoff (1976) notes “more stimuli to thought than constituent elements of a completed theory.” Developing such a complete theory remains a challenge even today, 150 years after the first publication of Capital.

Structure of Marx’s Argument

If we are to understand Marx’s theory of money we have to first understand his methodological approach. He had a logical and historical analysis of the successive development of the role and functions of money, as a measure of value, a medium of circulation and finally as money proper. This last role itself included money’s role in hoarding, as a means of payment and as world money. This logical structure is integral to his analysis.

Economic & Political Weekly for more

Voice, power and soul: African feminists in their own words

Friday, October 13th, 2017


African feminisms are now attracting global attention, with a number of feminist writers finding wide circulation in western media, and through activist intervention on social media channels. These individual voices signal the presence of diverse African feminist movements which have shaped transformative gender politics in the African region for generations. It is these legacies of feminist struggle that are vocalized in the new film series Voice, Power and Soul: Conversations from the 4th African Feminist Forum shot at the fourth regional meeting of the African Feminist Forum in Harare, Zimbabwe in April 2016. The series features interviews with 28 feminists from 13 African countries, interspersed with footage from the forum itself.

The African Feminist Forum was launched by African feminist activists in 2006 at its first regional gathering in Accra, Ghana. The impetus in founding the AFF was to provide a space that was missing at the time in continental women’s movements: a regional platform with an explicitly and collectively agreed feminist politics inclusive of an appreciation of sexual diversity and defence of reproductive choice, a critique of the use of religion and culture to oppress women, and naming a collective as well as personal feminist ethics. These points may seem minor to external observers, however in African women’s organizing these issues remain lines on which women’s political solidarity falters. In the African Feminist Forum, former liberation fighters engage with 20-something queer activists; photographers and poets co-convene discussions with academics, lawyers and parliamentarians; feminist theologians, secularists and traditional healers eat together, and everybody (yes, everybody) dances.

The series Voice, Power and Soul: Conversations from the 4th African Feminist Forum adds another layer to this documentation, featuring what is likely to be, the largest and most diverse set of interviews with African feminists on film to date. Women in the series speak to game-changing political moments and alliances and stories of activism unearthed from pan-African feminist research. They also offer analysis of contemporary feminist struggles by the women who have bravely helped shape them. These include reflections from Mariam Kirollos, co-founder of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment and Assault a rapid-action initiative set up in response to attacks on women protestors during commemorations of the Egyptian revolution. Kasha Jaqueline Nabagesera recalls the growth of the LGBTI rights movement in Uganda and the early and consistent solidarity that feminists in the Uganda Feminist Forum offered – a point often erased from accounts of activism against the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Academics Amina Mama, Sylvia Tamale, Ayesha Imam and Pumla Dineo Gqola- foundational thinkers in African feminist theory- speak with a movement voice about their politics and practice. Kenyan researcher and translator Wangui wa Goro, known for her translations of African writers Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Veronique Tadjo – explores the complexity of gender identity and family culture. Senegalese disability right activist and writer Aissatou Cissé encourages young feminists to expand the movement in resistance to continuing imbalances in the way that African girls and women and treated in comparison to boys and men. The youngest voice in the series, Âurea Mouzinho, reflects on the need for a collective revival of feminist organising in Angola (after leaving the 4th AFF her and fellow Angolan participant, Sizaltina Cutaia, went on to co-found the Ondjango Feminista – the Angolan Feminist Forum).

The Feminist Wire for more