Thursday, July 27, 2017

Vyapam Scam Accused Allegedly Commits Suicide In Madhya Pradesh

Praveen Yadav, an accused in the high-profile (MPPEB) scam, allegedly committed suicide on Wednesday, by hanging himself at his residence in Madhya Pradesh's Morena. Praveen, a resident of Maharajpur village was charged in 2012 in connection with the Vyapam scam. More than 40 people associated with the scam have died since the story broke in 2013.

The deaths include accused and witnesses as well as a journalist who was investigating the story and have largely been under mysterious circumstances. The death includes the Dean of a Jabalpur Medical College Dr. Arun Sharma and the other is Aaj Tak journalist Akshay Singh, who was covering the scam. The scam involved 13 different exams conducted by Vyapam, for selection of medical students and state government employees (including food inspectors, transport constables, police personnel, school teachers, dairy supply officers and forest guards). The exams were taken by around 3.2 million students.

Cases of irregularities in these entrance tests had been reported since the mid-1990s, and the first FIR was filed in 2000. However, until 2009, such cases were not thought to be part of an organized ring. When major complaints surfaced in the pre-medical test (PMT) in 2009, the state government established a committee to investigate the matter. The committee released its report in 2011, and over a hundred people were arrested by the police.

More on Vyapam

see also

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book review: Imagining Pakistan: Religion at the Origins of Nationalism

Sohaib I. Khan on Venkat Dhulipala’s Creating a New Medina
Dhulipala’s methodological posture is a refreshing departure from academic histories in which the saga of partition only unfolds through the hidden motives and intrigues of nationalist elites. At the very outset of the book, he therefore rejects the famous “bargaining counter” thesis that sees Pakistan as the unintended outcome of a failed political bargain by its founder 

Pakistan’s descent into violent forms of religious extremism has recently become the subject of best-selling books. Causal explanations for the country’s current state of crisis rely on either one or some combination of the following: incomplete modernization, persistent religious dogma and super-stition as impediments to secularization, disruptions in democratic rule by a strong military juntaAmerican interventionism and surrogate warfare, etc. For those not captive to a view of the present, the roots of Pakistan’s religious predicament may even be traced to the country’s inception with the partition of British India in 1947. Nationalist autobiographies of both Pakistan and India remember partition and its attendant violence in starkly different terms. Whereas for the former partition symbolizes the glory of sacrifice that earned Indian Muslims their independence in the form of a separate homeland, for the latter it marks a disruption of irrational communalist fervor in what was to be an anti-colonial liberation struggle for a united India. India and Pakistan became nation-states in 1947, but the historical consciousness that renders them immemorial draws on the originary violence of partition: the nation is consecrated once bonds of community are forged in the glory and tragedy of bloodshed.

In Venkat Dhulipala’s Creating a New Medina, Pakistan’s relationship to Islam is framed neither in terms of the security paradigm of the War on Terror nor the violent aftermath of partition. The book examines the earliest articulations of this relationship as formulated by politicians, the clergy, and journalists during the decade immediately preceding partition. Rather than anticipating the madness and chaos of partition as an inevitable outcome of the Pakistan movement, Dhulipala
tries to understand the goals and aspirations of the movement’s actors without judging them for the historical validity of their conclusions. In doing so, he challenges a widely-accepted view on Pakistan’s origins, one shared among historians of modern South Asia: Pakistan came into existence owing to a premature and hastily crafted nationalist scheme by Muslim elites during the British departure from India.

The Instigator: How MS Golwalkar’s virulent ideology underpins Modi’s India. By HARTOSH SINGH BAL

EVERY CULT OR ORGANISATION typically carries forward the legacy of its founder, and it is rare for those who build upon that legacy to exercise the same influence—let alone exceed it. But the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, has never been a typical organisation, and, in this regard too, it stands out. It was founded in 1925 by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, but it bears the far more emphatic stamp of his successor, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. While Hedgewar is referred to as Doctorji within the RSS, Golwalkar is known as Guruji.

Golwalkar took over as the RSS’s sarsanghchalak, or chief, after Hedgewar’s death, in 1940, and held the post till his own death, in 1973. When he assumed charge, the RSS—also known as the Sangh—was still establishing itself, and did not have a major presence outside Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Under him, the organisation passed through great turbulence: it played an incendiary role in the Partition violence, and was banned after the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. But under Golwalkar’s leadership, the RSS also set down its written constitution and began to expand beyond its shakhas, or local branches, and into front organisations such as the Jan Sangh in politics, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad among students, the Vishva Hindu Parishad in religion, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh among industrial workers.

By the time Golwalkar died, the RSS had extended across the entire country, and its network of allied organisations - the Sangh Parivar - had penetrated almost every aspect of Indian society. His ideological influence did not end with his death: Bunch of Thoughts, a text that distils the vast spread of Golwalkar’s writings and speeches, remains the Sangh’s bible to date. In 2004, MG Vaidya, currently the RSS’s leading ideologue, articulated what amounts to the organisation’s official view on Golwalkar. Vaidya, according to the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, “described Shri Guruji as the biggest gift to Hindu society in the 20th century. He said that the credit for today’s importance of the Sangh in national politics should be given to Shri Guruji, who worked tirelessly for spreading the Sangh work in every nook and corner of the country.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dunkirk Veteran Weeps At Film Premiere: ‘It Was Just Like I Was There Again’

Walking out of a Calgary, Canada, movie theater on Friday, where he’d just watched the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s highly acclaimed “Dunkirk,” 97-year-old war veteran Ken Sturdy was seen wiping tears from his eyes. “I never thought I’d see that again,” an emotional Sturdy, dressed in a jacket adorned with war medals and a military beret, told Canada’s Global News. “It was just like I was there again.” Sturdy, who is originally from Wales, is one of the few surviving World War II veterans who was at the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. He was among the 330,000 Allied troops who were evacuated from the French town as Nazi forces made their advance. More than 100,000 British and French troops perished in the battle, according to the BBC.

“I was 20 when that happened, but watching the movie, I could see my old friends again,” said Sturdy, who added that he’d “lost so many of my buddies” over the course of WWII. Speaking after the film, Sturdy said he’d been moved to tears for another reason too.  “Tonight I cried because it’s never the end,” he said, referring to humanity’s inexplicable penchant for war. “We the human species, we are so intelligent and do such astonishing things. We can fly to the moon, but we still do stupid things.” Sturdy isn’t the only Dunkirk veteran who has seen and enjoyed the Nolan film since its release. George Wagner, a 96-year-old British WWII vet, told People magazine last week that the film was “very good” and “really realistic.”

“When I saw the film, I was brought back,” Wagner said. Some veterans have noted, however, that the film was actually “louder” than the actual event.  Actor Kenneth Branagh, who stars in the movie, said that about 30 veterans - all of them in their mid-90s - attended the U.K. premiere of the film. Speaking to late-night host Stephen Colbert, Branagh said the veterans praised the movie as being “exhilarating” and true-to-life, but said the film “was louder than the [real] battle.” “The noise of the bombs at Dunkirk did fall away in the air - it’s a massive, massive stretch of beach,” Branagh said. “But trapped in Chris Nolan’s amazing vision of this conflict, you can’t get away from the sound of the bombs.”

see also
The Republic of Silence – Jean-Paul Sartre on The Aftermath of War and Occupation (1944)
The Second World War in Colour – in pictures
The search for new time - Ahimsa in an age of permanent war

Poland's president Andrzej Duda to veto law that would have put supreme court under control of ruling party

Duda said he consulted many experts before making his decision, including lawyers, sociologists, politicians and philosophers. But he said the person who influenced him the most was Zofia Romaszewska, a leading anti-Communist dissident in the 1970s and 1980s. He said Romaszewska told him: “Mr President, I lived in a state where the prosecutor general had an unbelievably powerful position and could practically do everything. I would not like to go back to such a state.”

Poland’s president has said he will veto controversial judicial reforms that have sparked days of nationwide street protests and prompted the EU to threaten unprecedented sanctions. “I have decided to send back to parliament – in which case to veto – the law on the supreme court, as well as the law on the National Council of the Judiciary,” Andrzej Duda said in a televised announcement. “The law would not strengthen the sense of justice in society,” he added, explaining that his decision came after lengthy consultations with legal experts over the weekend. “These laws must be amended,” he said.

The reforms proposed by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) would have increased political control over Poland’s judiciary. They triggered an angry response from critics, who accused PiS of trying to curtail the independence of the courts. Duda’s declaration marks the first time that he has publicly split with Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of PiS. Since his inauguration, Duda has been seen as something of a Kaczyński puppet.

Some commentators are sceptical whether his apparent assertion of authority is authentic, or merely an attempt to quell the protests; cynics believe Duda will propose amendments that do little to address the main concerns about the legislation. But Duda insisted that political interference in the judiciary should not be up for discussion. Among the changes was a proposal to allow the attorney general, a position held by the justice minister, to be able to influence decisions by the supreme court.

“It should not be part of our tradition that the attorney general can interfere in the work of the supreme court,” Duda said… read more:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Neoliberalism" isn't a left-wing insult but a monstrous political system of inequality. By Sam Kriss // A strong new voice in resistance to Trump

The One Word Guaranteed to Make the Corporate Pundit Class Squirm
Neoliberalism is not particularly hard to define. It’s not only an ideology or a set of principles; it’s a system of practices, and an era, the one we’re living in now. What it means, over and above everything, is untrammeled ruling-class power, an end to the class-collaborationism of the post-war years and a vicious assault of the rich against the poor. This is achieved through market mechanisms, fiscal austerity and the penetration of capitalist relations into every possible facet of human life. It doesn’t mean that the role of the state vanishes—an essential precondition for neoliberalism is the destruction of working-class power and collective bargaining, and this has to be achieved, often brutally, through laws and their enforcement. There isn't just "some role for market forces" either, but their invasion into every fathomable social situation.

Warehouse workers are electronically monitored and made to compete against each other in efficiency rankings? This is neoliberalism. The young and unemployed are encouraged to build a "personal brand" and sell themselves as a product? This is neoliberalism. If you don’t like any of this, you’re encouraged to shop ethically, reduce your personal carbon footprint and consume vaguely antagonistic culture-commodities. This is neoliberalism.

The result of all this is that our society has become atomized: we see all our relations as essentially competitive, and the people around us as rivals for scarce goods; we are all, socially and existentially, alone. Everything we do is turned into a market transaction, a form of buying and selling. And this is because the free and unfettered market isn’t a neutral system for processing human interactions, but an instrument of class power… read more:

Amrit Dhillon - Routine abuse of Delhi's maids laid bare as class divide spills into violence

The standoff between cooks, cleaners, drivers and childminders of the rich, who last week stormed across the well-manicured lawns at Mahaguna Moderne in Noida, a Delhi suburb, has turned from violent to political. Dozens of people whom residents believe took part in the angry uprising have been sacked, and in response trade unions are calling for a boycott of all domestic help. There is fury at what has been seen as the high-handed approach of a government minister who arrived to talk to 
residents before making racial slurs against the rioters and refusing to meet slum dwellers.

The 100-strong group of protesters consisted of workers who enter the high-rise complex daily yet are forced to take different lifts and corridors to their employers, and even have to use different glasses and taps to drink water. When Zohra Bibi, a part-time maid, went missing, her husband went to the complex to demonstrate together with his relatives and friends. It is claimed that Mithul and Harshu Sethi and their children, for whom Bibi worked, were forced to lock themselves inside their bathroom for safety as the mob stormed into their huge condominium flat, damaging the marble walls and vandalising furniture.

The complex of plush apartments has manicured lawns, a clubhouse, a gym and tennis courts. But just 300 metres away lies a filthy, muddy lane with greenish-black monsoon puddles where the workers live in low, windowless tin sheds. Bricks and stones are used to hold down roofs, and water has to be carried in plastic cans from a nearby municipal tap. There are no toilets. The proximity of the luxury towers, which loom over the slum, is like a taunt. When night falls, the taunt becomes sharper as the lights come on in the flats while the hovels remain dark. 

These two extremes generally co-exist peacefully. But on the morning of 13 July, the workers’ simmering resentment against the contempt of their employers erupted. When Bibi, 30, failed to return home, her husband, Abdul Sattar, panicked. He gathered his neighbours and marched to the gates of Mahaguna Moderne, overpowering the security guards and heading inside. The violence was only quelled when the police arrived.

In the hours that followed, Bibi turned up safe and well. She claimed she had been hiding after being attacked in the Sethi’s home, while the family claim they chased her out of their house for stealing.
By what right did they demolish our livelihoods? Just because they are rich? Because I’m poor, do I have no rights? Bibi and her husband were not at home when the Guardian visited; their shack was padlocked. Talking to maids and drivers revealed the daily humiliations they face: not being allowed to use the toilets that they are responsible for cleaning; being frisked when they leave each day, to check for theft; one day’s leave a month; homes where the fridge is locked to prevent the maid from eating any food; being prevented by security guards from sitting on benches in the open areas.

“Work or leave. You’re not here to rest. That’s what they said,” explains Asha Devi, a part-time maid at the complex. She says her employer is a “good madam” but is always trying to exploit her. “When I’m finished with the cleaning, she says: ‘Can you massage my feet?’ Or she asks me to clean the fridge. And she won’t pay me extra.” Asked if she feels humiliated by the apartheid-style separate lifts for residents and workers, she shrugs. “What can I do? I am poor. I need the job to feed my children.” In the days after the violence, workers were dubbed “illegal immigrants”; most are from West Bengal, the majority Muslims. Workers were locked out of the complex until “security concerns” had been addressed. Other condominiums followed suit.

Then electricity and water supplies to the slums were cut off. The next morning, about 50 policemen arrived with a bulldozer and demolished the 50 or so makeshift tea stalls and shops selling fruit and vegetables that lined the main road from Mahaguna Moderne... read more:

Ann O'Loughlin - How the Trans-Siberian railway became the love train

Ann O’Loughlin set off across the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, looking for adventure and a chance to practise her Russian. Instead, she met a fascinating stranger in a leather jacket in the next carriage …

The Trans-Siberian railway, the greatest train journey in the world, is where our love story began.
When I booked a ticket on the Rossiya train to travel from west to east through different time zones, I expected a great adventure, to rub shoulders with people from a very different culture and to try out the small bit of Russian I had diligently studied. Never did I expect to meet the love of my life and say “I do” by the time the train skirted around the far edges of Lake Baikal and out of the city of Irkutsk in Siberia. Ours was a holiday romance like no other; love kindled on that great iron road put in place at the time of the tsar and which tracks across the former Soviet Union week in, week out. Over four days as the train trundled its way through the heart of Russia and in to Mongolia, two people who were adamant they were not looking for love, opened their hearts, fell madly in love, began planning a future, pledging to spend the rest of their lives together.
Ann O’Loughlin
 Ann O’Loughlin. Photograph: Ann O'Loughlin
It was the late 1980s, the era of glasnost and Gorbachev. I had stocked up on notebooks and pens to write a journal of my travels, and Tolstoy was stuffed in my rucksack for some light reading. John had packed notebooks and pens to sketch moments of his journey. But all these lofty notions were forgotten as we got to know each other and love blossomed.

The two of us, an Irishwoman and an Englishman, were travelling to China out of Moscow, a journey of 7,854km. John had caught my eye early on, tall with round John Lennon glasses and a leather jacket hanging over one shoulder. He was in the compartment beside mine; we first chatted as we stood in the corridor on a sweltering July day, the window down, the warm air rushing past us as the train made its way out of the gloomy industrial suburbs of Moscow; the grey city receding, the land folding away farther than the eye could see. Outside Moscow, picket-fenced dachas, the summer houses of the rich Muscovites, dotted the landscape before giving way to countryside and forest, thousands of miles before we reached Irkutsk in a journey that would take in big and small stations, all busy no matter the time of day or night.

To understand this great railway journey and enjoy it at its best, it is necessary to drop down a few gears and watch the world go by. The world on the train goes on at its own pace as it devours the railway miles, silver birch trees standing sentry along the line. The compartments in the carriage are small, so during the day as all the other passengers sit comfortably, it is easier to take up residence on the corridor pull-down seats by the windows. People stop and chat passing back and forth to the toilet or the samovar, where hot water is dispensed night and day... read more:

A love story: The Macedonian cop and an Iraqi refugee
Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi: What life was like serving Kim Jong-il and his heir

Donald Trump's Report Card: A Paralyzed, Scandal-Plagued Presidency That's Only Getting Worse. By Heather Digby Parton

He’s packed in more scandals, lies, errors and gaffes during this short period that any five presidents in their full four-year terms.  I feel like I’ve aged at least a decade since January. Each day is like a month. But it’s true. We are only at the six-month point and it’s time to take stock. Trump’s plans may not have had to come to full fruition but we can certainly judge whether or not this central promise of his American Carnage speech has born out:

In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over.

As usual, he was projecting his own weaknesses onto others. I think most people who had followed the presidential campaign understood that this was a very bold comment coming from Donald Trump. No one has ever complained or cast more blame on everyone but himself than he has, including a room full of wailing preschoolers badly in need of a nap. He is paralyzed, unable to take action because he has no idea what the job is, much less how to do it. His talk isn’t just empty, it’s completely unintelligible.

On inauguration day we didn’t yet know whether maybe the majesty of the office would change him or the institutions under which he had to operate would, at least, constrain him. There was always a suspicion that maybe he was more of an act than he let on. Now we know. It wasn’t an act.
President Donald Trump is exactly the same person he was on the campaign trail and in the many years of celebrity that preceded his entry into the race.  To those who said they liked him because “what you see is what you get,” he has fulfilled their desires. In their book the consistency of his dishonesty is a testament to his authenticity. The rest of us are horrified and appalled and it gets worse all the time.

For six months the White House has been in a nonstop rolling crisis. The gush of leaks from inside the administration is unprecedented. We still don’t know exactly what went on with the election interference but Trump and his associates seem to spend a whole lot of time with Russians — and the president now seems extremely agitated to find out that investigators are looking into his finances. His interview with the New York Times on Wednesday was shockingly incoherent but did seem to imply that he was seriously considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller and was pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. On Thursday we found out that Trump is contemplating using the presidential pardon power for himself and others (presumably his family). None of this is behavior one associates with a powerful leader who has nothing to hide... read more:

Friday, July 21, 2017

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Dunkirk. By John Broich

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is likely to be the most widely seen or read depiction of history released in 2017. So how does a British historian who teaches and writes about World War II rate it as history? In terms of accuracy, it rates pretty highly. There are no big, glaring historical whoppers. The characters whom Nolan invents to serve his narrative purposes are realistic, and his scenes depict genuine events or hew close to firsthand accounts. And why not, since fiction could hardly outdo the drama and emotion of the reality? Nolan made clear that he intended the film to be a kind of history of an experience, and he succeeds about as well as any filmmaker could in conveying what it might have felt like to be on that beach...

Dunkirk Finds New Ways to Subvert the Tropes of the War Film

What’s missing from the film that a historian might add?
In the film, we see at least one French soldier who might be African. In fact, soldiers from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere were key to delaying the German attack. Other African soldiers made it to England and helped form the nucleus of the Free French forces that soon took the fight to the Axis. ..There were also four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps on those beaches. Observers said they were particularly cool under fire and well organized during the retreat. They weren’t large in number, maybe a few hundred among hundreds of thousands, but their appearance in the film would have provided a good reminder of how utterly central the role of the Indian Army was in the war. Their service meant the difference between victory and defeat. In fact, while Britain and other allies were licking their wounds after Dunkirk, the Indian Army picked up the slack in North Africa and the Middle East. 

Why the obsession with airplane fuel? : Here, Nolan is dramatizing something central to the entire event. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was not able to provide a lot of help to the men trapped on the beach because of their fighters’ range. As the film depicts early on, pilots had to carefully conserve fuel on the Channel crossing and, even then, could only operate for less than an hour over Dunkirk itself. What happened far more often was that, while en route, fighters came upon German planes attacking the Royal Navy and had to battle them over the sea. This wasn’t comforting to the men trapped on the beach, but if the Royal Navy’s Destroyers were sunk (six of around 40 were), there would be no cover for the retreat. The RAF did battle German fighters and bombers over the three beaches of Calais, Dunkirk, and Ostend themselves, but a recurring theme in survivors’ accounts is that they never saw the RAF in the skies above them.

“Where the hell were you?”: This is reflected in one of the film’s final lines spoken by an evacuated soldier who sees another evacuee with pilot’s wings. In truth, pilots’ receptions were often far less kind. A pilot who bailed over Dunkirk beach had to fight to get on a boat. He was in the air again the day after his return to England.

Did the British really hold back ships and planes from the fight?: Yes. The British were rightly afraid of invasion with the developing collapse of France, and their main means of defense was the Royal Navy, not the Army. .. read more:

Tufail Ahmad on Abrahamic Hindutva // Khaled Ahmed - Pakistan: The monopoly of violence

NB: These are two significant and complementary articles on the insurgent political ideologies that hide behind religion. Despite many differences between developments in India and Pakistan, what is similar is the political campaign to abolish the distinction between legal and illegal violence. Instead of enforcing the supremacy of the state, the political leadership is encouraging vigilante groups to engage in violence. In Pakistan the situation is complicated by the fact that the state was founded on the ideal of Islam as civic religion. This made it easy for Islamo-fascists to push a violent, theocratic agenda. This process is also underway in Bangladesh. In India the RSS worked for decades to enforce an ideological dictatorship in the name of a Hindu communal interest. (Read more about sabotage of the law in India). Here Hindutva functions as did State Shinto in Japan - a project to impose a state religion. Many imagine it to be 'Hinduism', but at this article argues, it is an Abrahamic ideology dressed up as Hinduism. The criminalisation of the state is the crux of fascism, and readers may judge for themselves how far the process has ripened in various countries of South Asia. DS

Other than India, there is absolutely no country in the world that can claim copyright on the concepts of pluralism, coexistence and toleration. These, originally Indian ideas, informed the civilisational order that prevailed through the course of the known Indian history. However, in a recent article I have used the term "Abrahamic Hindutva" to argue that this civilisational order is under threat from the current generation of the people who long ago evolved these pluralistic concepts, authoured the Vedas and Smritis, and discovered Yoga and Ayurveda.

The argument is not what the Vedas taught when they were created, but what set of ideas prevail currently in the minds of the people who describe themselves wrongly as Hindus. To understand this phenomenon, I described Abrahamic Hindutva as "Hinduism influenced by Islam" and as a concept underpinned by "Hindu theology." I also noted that Abrahamic Hindutva denotes "a growing inability of Hindu youths to comprehend their Hindu identity as sufficient in itself – without a reference to Islam and Christianity." Some writers have used the word "semitisation" to denote the impact of Islam and Christianity on the way of life of India. Ram Madhav, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, has called it "semitisation of Indian cultural behaviour." In the case of Islam, it was seen that politics to capture power transformed into theology, dividing Muslims into Shias and Sunnis. In the case of Hinduism, culture is transforming into Hindu theology.

Svetlana Alexievich: ‘After communism we thought everything would be fine. But people don’t understand freedom’

In conversations with Svetlana Alexievich, it quickly becomes apparent that she is more comfortable listening than she is talking. That’s hardly surprising: the Belarusian writer has spent decades in listening mode. Alexievich, now 69, put in thousands of hours with her tape recorder across the lands of the former Soviet Union, collecting and collating stories from ordinary people. She wove those tales into elegant books of such power and insight, that in 2015 she received the Nobel prize for literature.

In today’s Russia, Alexievich’s work is a Rorschach test for political beliefs: among the beleaguered, liberal opposition, she is frequently seen as the conscience of the nation, a uniquely incisive commentator on the disappointments and complexities of the post-Soviet condition. Mainstream opinion sees her as a turncoat whose books degrade Russia and Russians.

When I meet her in a cosy basement café in her home city of Minsk, the entrance nestled in an amphitheatre of imposing, late-Soviet apartment blocks, she has just returned from a book tour of South Korea, and is about to embark on a trip to Moscow. “It’s tiring to have the attention on yourself; I want to closet myself away and start writing properly again,” she says, looking visibly wearied by the travel and spotlight. Alexievich reluctantly agreed to deliver a talk about a book she wrote more than three decades ago, The Unwomanly Face of War, which has been republished in a new English translation this month. It was written in the early 1980s, and for many years she could not find a publisher, but during the soul-searching of the late-Soviet perestroika period, it tapped into the zeitgeist of reflection and critical thinking, and was published in a print run of 2m, briefly turning Alexievich into a household name. Later, the merciless flashlight Alexievich shone on to the Soviet war experience became less welcome in Russia. Since the Nobel win, her work has found a new international audience, giving her a second stint of fame 30 years after the first.

The original inspiration for the book was an article Alexievich read in the local Minsk press during the 1970s, about a retirement party for the accountant at a local car factory, a decorated sniper who had killed 75 Germans during the war. After that first interview, she began to seek out female war veterans across the Soviet Union. A million Soviet women served at the front, but they were absent from the official war narrative. “Before this book, the only female character in our war literature was the nurse who improved the life of some heroic lieutenant,” she says. “But these women were steeped in the filth of war as deeply as the men.”

It took a long time, Alexievich concedes, to get the women to stop speaking in rehearsed platitudes. Many were embarrassed about the reality of their war memories. “They would say, ‘OK, we’ll tell you, but you have to write it differently, more heroically.’” After a frank interview with a woman who served as the medical assistant to a tank battalion, Alexievich recounts, she sent the transcript as promised and received a package through the post in response, full of newspaper clippings about wartime feats and most of the interview text crossed out in pen. “More than once afterward I met with these two truths that live in the same human being,” Alexievich writes. “One’s own truth, driven underground, and the common one, filled with the spirit of the time.”

The book touches on topics that were taboo during the Soviet period and have once again been excised from Putin’s Russia: the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, by which Stalin and Hitler carved up Europe, the executions of deserters and the psychological effects of war for years to come. Her subjects recall sweaty nightmares, grinding teeth, short tempers and an inability to see forests without thinking of twisted bodies in shallow graves… read more:

More posts on Svetlana Alexievich

Pentagon Study Declares American Empire Is 'Collapsing'. By Nafeez Ahmed

An extraordinary new Pentagon study has concluded that the US-backed framework of international order established after World War II is “fraying” and may even be “collapsing,” leading the United States to lose its position of “primacy” in world affairs. The solution proposed to protect US power in this new “post-primacy” environment is, however, more of the same: more surveillance, more propaganda (“strategic manipulation of perceptions”) and more military expansionism.

The document concludes that the world has entered a fundamentally new phase of transformation in which US power is in decline, international order is unravelling, and the authority of governments everywhere is crumbling. Having lost its past status of “pre-eminence,” the US now inhabits a dangerous, unpredictable “post-primacy” world, whose defining feature is “resistance to authority.”
Danger comes not just from great power rivals like Russia and China, both portrayed as rapidly growing threats to American interests, but also from the increasing risk of “Arab Spring”-style events. These will erupt not just in the Middle East, but all over the world, potentially undermining trust in incumbent governments for the foreseeable future.

The report, based on a year-long intensive research process involving consultation with key agencies across the Department of Defense and US Army, calls for the US government to invest in more surveillance, better propaganda through “strategic manipulation” of public opinion, and a “wider and more flexible” US military.

The report was published in June by the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute to evaluate the DoD’s approach to risk assessment at all levels of Pentagon policy planning. The study was supported and sponsored by the US Army’s Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate; the Joint Staff, J5 (Strategy and Policy Branch); the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Develop­ment; and the Army Study Program Management Office... read more:

see also:

Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war
How everything became war // William Hartung: What Happens When All We Have Left Is ThePentagon? Trump’s Vision of a Militarized America
Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Almost all of the plastic produced since 1950 is still sitting in landfills. By KATE WHEELING

Man's legacy on Earth may be the piles of plastics we've mass produced - roughly 8.3 billion metric tons so far, according to a new study published today in Science Advances. In the first ever global analysis of plastic production, researchers from universities across the United States combined production data with product lifetime information from various industries - such as construction, packaging, and consumer goods - to find out how much plastic humans have made, and how much of it is still around.

"You can't manage what you don't measure," says Roland Geyer, an associate professor at the University of California–Santa Barbara and lead author on the new study. "I think in order to manage plastics sustainably hopefully and stem the tide of plastics we need to know how much we're making and where it goes." About 30 percent of all plastics made since the middle of the 20th century are still in use, but the vast majority of plastic waste, it turns out, is still around as well. Just 12 percent has been incinerated—a process that presents its own environmental and public-health perils—and only 9 percent was recycled.


There were vast regional differences in recycling, however: The recycling rate in the U.S. was 9 percent, compared to 30 percent in Europe, and 25 percent in China. Since none of the most commonly used plastics are biodegradable, nearly 80 percent of the more than six billion metric tons of plastic waste generated between the 1950s (when the large-scale production of synthetic plastics really took off) and 2015 is accumulating in our landfillsocean basinsfar-flung islands, and other natural environments… read more:

More posts on plastic

Gujarat: RTI activist who took on education mafia found dead in Navsari

An RTI activist of Surat, who was found with multiple injuries on his head and shoulder on the National Highway-8 in Navsari on Wednesday, succumbed later in the night in a private hospital.
The victim, 31-year-old Rajesh Savaliya, had launched a drive to expose the education mafia operating in the city. He had also reportedly complained to the District Education officer about a number of schools functioning without proper licences or approval letters. He is also said to have received threat calls allegedly from the education mafia, the last over a month ago.

A resident of Mahalaxmi society in Punagam area in Varachha, Rajesh’s father Vinay Savaliya told the police that his son had left house on Tuesday evening for a friend’s construction site at Pardi in Valsad district. Rajesh was given a ride in a car by one of his friend’s mother and sister who reportedly dropped him on NH-8. On Wednesday evening, Rajesh’s friend Vijay Patel received a call from city’s Navsari Civil Hospital about him being severely injured.

Police said Vijay, along with five others, reached the hospital and learnt that the 108 ambulance services had received a call about a person found lying by the roadside near Sai Baba temple on NH-8 in Navsari. Vijay shifted Rajesh, who had received severe injuries on his head, left shoulder and stomach, to a private hospital in  Surat. Vijay informed Rajesh’s family members who also reached the hospital. On Wednesday night, however, Rajesh was declared dead by doctors. Rajesh was cremated at Ashwanikumar cremation home in Varachha on Thursday afternoon.  Several RTI activists attended his funeral... read more:

The People's Republic of Thuggery - Chinese agents bar access to the 'free' wife of Liu Xiaobo

NB: The Chinese Communists have converted their Constitution into a cruel joke. Let anyone read it and compare it with the reality - especially the manner in which they assassinated  Liu Xiaobo and are now torturing his widow. Here's Article 35 of their Constitution - Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration." Other sections also bear reading..This is a shameless tyranny. DS

Chinese authorities claim Liu Xia is a free woman. But one week after the death of her husband, the Nobel laureate and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, a visit to the couple’s Beijing home immediately gives the lie to that claim. Within seconds of arriving at the tree-lined property on Wednesday, the Guardian was surrounded by plain-clothes security agents, shouting orders and questions, demanding that its reporters leave. “Where are you going? Where are you going?” snapped one man, wearing black Bermuda shorts and Adidas Superstars, as he used his body to block the path that leads to the fourth-floor flat. A second agent arrived, also clad in black, and then a third, brandishing a golden Chinese smartphone with which he threatened to call the police. Asked if Liu Xia was at home he said: “I have never heard of her.” He went on: “There are thousands of people living here with that name. How should I know which one you are talking about?”

In the lead-up to the death of her jailed husband, Liu Xia had been forced to endure almost seven years of unofficial house arrest – Communist party retribution, observers say, for her husband’s 2010 Nobel peace prize. Now, with Liu gone, the 56-year-old artist and poet appears to have been thrust straight back into that invisible prison. Liu Xia (front) was last seen in photos issued by Beijing as her husband’s ashes were scattered at sea off the coast of Dalian, Liaoning province. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Rumours have swirled that Liu – last seen in propaganda photographs of her husband’s cremation and sea burial on Saturday – had been forcibly “travelled” to the southwestern province of Yunnan to prevent her speaking out.

On Thursday, however, supporters admitted her whereabouts were a mystery. “She’s totally incommunicado,” said Jared Genser, a US human rights lawyer who has campaigned on behalf of the late dissident and his wife. “It seems like she has fallen off the face of the Earth.” Hu Jia, a Beijing-based activist and friend, also said he was in the dark: “We’ve tried every means possible to contact her.” In the hours after the death of Liu, who was serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late May, there were calls from activists and western governments for Liu Xia to be given safe passage out of China.

“I now urge [Beijing] to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia,” the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said in a statement. China, however, has shown no sign of backing down, instead insisting, contrary to the evidence, that Liu Xia – who has never been accused or convicted of any crime – is “free”. Friends and supporters say that is a mendacious fabrication designed to conceal her continued extra-legal incarceration. “I think she’s in an even worse position than before,” said Genser. “Her husband is dead. We are not aware that she has any contact with anybody at all. Her parents have both passed away. Her brother is also incommunicado and disappeared. And she is the only person now who can speak to what she heard from Liu Xiaobo in the last seven years of her being under house arrest and in his final weeks of life.”

Jerry Cohen, an expert in Chinese law and human rights from New York University, said he believed the rulers of one-party China would be reluctant to release Liu Xia in case she became a figurehead of resistance. “The wife who has to suffer for the political views of her husband has always been a figure to attract sympathy. But she is much more,” he said. “She is an extraordinarily able and determined person and they feel they shouldn’t allow her to speak … She is too potent a symbol.”

On Wednesday it was impossible to know whether that symbol was inside her apartment, outside of which security agents lurked in a black SUV. Plain-clothes agents guarding the leafy residential compound grew increasingly jittery and aggressive as they tried to force journalists away from the property.  “You should get out!” growled one of the officers, losing his temper at repeated questions about the dissident’s missing wife. “Go! Go! Go!” shouted his colleague. Earlier in the week journalists from the Spanish news agency EFE reported being grabbed and threatened by unidentified men and held by police after trying to visit Liu Xia’s home. Police reportedly accused the journalists of working in an “illegal manner”... read more:

Book Review: The Cultural Revolution of Modern Time

Peter Fritzsche; Stranded in the Present: Modern Time and the Melancholy of History
Reviewed by Matthew Brown

According to the Romantic poet Novalis, our paths in life lead "always homeward" (immer nach Hause). Read against the background of the French Revolution and its upheavals, the desire to return to a place and time of safety and security becomes easily understandable. But as Peter Fritzsche's Stranded in the Present suggests about this era and its legacy for modernity, we can never truly arrive at this destination. For Fritzsche, the Revolution itself and the entire revolutionary period experienced by its interpreters (and survivors) created a fundamental sense of rupture between past and present as well as between individuals, groups, and their previously accepted sources of personal and social meaning. 

Following the works of George Steiner and Lynn Hunt, Fritzsche argues forcefully and convincingly for the revolutionary mindsets that accompanied the events of the Revolution and its seemingly endless aftershocks.[1] The creation of a new sensibility about the place of the individual in the drama of history provides the impetus for Fritzsche's work, which traces the dislocations experienced by individuals living through these literally unsettling times. Following an introduction and first chapter on the centrality of the Revolution, Fritzsche continues in thickly descriptive prose, creating a rich cultural history that draws upon an impressive array of sources to create a tapestry of this new historical awareness.

Each subsequent chapter examines a symbol of the shift in outlook by modern Western Europeans and Americans between the Revolution and the first decades of the nineteenth century. The second chapter, "Strangers," examines the experience of exile through diaries, memoirs, and biographical-fictional works, the literary forms most common to describing the initial encounters with the Revolution. For Fritzsche, Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, the French aristocrat, Romantic author and later diplomat, embodies the modern phenomenon of displacement and discontinuity. His personal experience with the Revolution served as the basis of his enduring feelings of dislocation, which came to structure the ways that he narrated his life. His frustrating efforts to continually recreate himself through his forty-year memoirs, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, stand as a poignant testament to his generation's need to come to terms with loss and exile, not so much from a place but from another time. 

Perhaps best captured by Chateaubriand's insight into the difficulties of modern identity that "Man does not have a single, consistent life" (p. 57), his fellow émigrés expressed similar existential anxieties about their own contingency. Writing their lives against the background of historical experience, contemporaries such as the well-known Germaine de Stael and the less-known Madame de Menerville told their stories to create meaning out of the disruptions of their age. The author's insightful readings of these sources help reveal the important relationship between their content and their literary form, but the crucial point for Fritzsche is that the stranger and the exile serve as compelling symbols for modern life itself, or at least life experienced in this nostalgic, melancholic temporal mode… read more: