Monday, November 30, 2009

The Real New India by Arundhati Roy

It's not a coincidence that the political party that carried out the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire was called the Committee for Union and Progress. "Union" (racial/ethnic/religious/national) and "Progress" ( economic determinism) have long been the twin coordinates of genocide.

Armed with this reading of history, is it reasonable to worry about whether a country that is poised on the threshold of "progress" is also poised on the threshold of genocide? Could the India being celebrated all over the world as a miracle of progress and democracy possibly be poised on the verge of genocide? The mere suggestion might sound outlandish and at this point in time, the use of the word genocide surely unwarranted. However, if we look to the future, and if the Tsars of Development believe in their own publicity, if they believe that There Is No Alternative to their chosen model for Progress, then they will inevitably have to kill, and kill in large numbers, in order to get their way.

In bits and pieces, as the news trickles in, it seems clear that the killing and dying has already begun.

It was in 1989, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the government of India turned in its membership in the Nonaligned Movement and signed up for membership in the Completely Aligned, often referring itself as the "natural ally" of Israel and the United States. (They have at least this one thing in common, all three are engaged in overt, neo-colonial military occupations: India in Kashmir, Israel in Palestine, the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Almost like clockwork, the two major national political parties, the BJP and the Congress, embarked on a joint program to advance India's version of Union and Progress, whose modern-day euphemisms are Nationalism and Development. Every now and then, particularly during elections, they stage some noisy familial squabbles, but have managed to gather into their fold even grumbling relatives, like the Communist Party of India.

The Union project offers Hindu nationalism (which seeks to unite the Hindu vote, vital, you will admit, for a great democracy like India). The Union project has been largely entrusted to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological heart, the holding company of the BJP and its militias, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

The RSS was founded in 1925. By the 1930s, its founder, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar, a fan of Benito Mussolini's, had begun to model it overtly along the lines of Italian fascism. Hitler, too, was and is an inspirational figure. Here are some excerpts from the RSS bible, We, or, Our Nationhood Defined by M.S. Godwalker, who succeeded Dr. Hedgewar as head of the RSS in 1940:

Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening.


In Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation...

All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots...The foreign races in Hindustan...may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment- not even citizen's rights.

Then again:

To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging of the country of the Semitic races- the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.,.. a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.

(How do you combat this kind of organized hatred? Certainly not with goofy preachings of secular love.)

By the year 2000, the RSS had more than sixty thousand shakhas (branches)and an army of more than four million swayamsevaks (volunteers) preaching its doctrine across India . They include India's former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former home minister and current leader of the opposition L.K. Advani, and, of course, the three-time Gujarat chief minister Narendra Moi. It also includes senior people in the media, the police, the army, the intelligence agencies, the judiciary, and the administrative services who are informal devotees of Hindutva- the RSS ideology. These people, unlike politicians who come and go, are permanent members of government machinery.

But the RSS's real power lies in the fact that it has put in decades of hard work and has created a network of organizations at every level of society. The BJP is its political front. It has a trade union wing, a women's wing, student wing and economic wing. Its front organization Vidya Bharati is the largest educational organization in the nongovernmental sector. It has thirteen thousand educational institutions with seventy thousand teachers and more than 1.7 million students.

On June 11, 1989, prime minster Rajiv Gandhi gave the RSS a gift. He was obliging enough to open the locks of the disputed Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, which the RSS claimed was the birthplace of Lord Ram. At the national executive of the BJP, the party passed a resolution to demolish the mosque and build a temple in Ayodyha. "I'm sure the resolution will translate into votes," said L.K. Advani. In 1990, he crisscrossed the country on his Rath Yatra, his Chariot of Fire, demanding the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaving riots and bloodshed in his wake. In 1991, the party won one hundred and twenty seats in Parliament. (It had won two in 1984). The hysteria orchestrated by Advani peaked in 1992, when the mosque was brought down by a mob. By 1998, the BJP was in power at the center.

Its first act in office was to conduct a series of nuclear tests. Cross the country, fascists and corporates, princes and paupers alike, celebrated India's Hindu bomb. In 2002, Narendra Modi's government planned and executed the Gujarat genocide (two thousand Moslem men, women and children massacred-many burned alive- 150,000 driven from their homes). In the election that took place a few months after the genocide, he was returned to power with an over-whelming majority, ensuring complete immunity for those who had participated in the killings... India has a great tradition of granting immunity to mass killers. I could fill volumes with the details.

While the "people" were engaged with the Union project and its doctrine of hatred, India's Progress project was proceeding apace. A new regime of privatization and liberalization resulted in the sale of the country's natural resources and public infrastructure to private corporations. It has created an unimaginatively wealthy upper class and growing middle class who have naturally become militant evangelists for the new dispensation.

The Progress project has its own tradition of impunity and subterfuge, no less horrific than the elaborate machinery of the Union project. At the heart of it lies the Supreme Court, which is rapidly become a pillar of Corporate Power, issuing order after order allowing for the building of dams, the interlinking of rivers, indiscriminate mining, the destruction of forests and water systems. All of this could be described as ecocide- a prelude perhaps to genocide. And to criticize the court is a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment.

With the possible exception of China, India today has the largest population of internally displaced people in the world. Dams alone have displaced thirty million people. The displacement is being enforced with court decrees or at gunpoint by policemen, government-controlled militias or corporate thugs. The displaced are being herded into tenements, camps, resettlement colonies where, cut off from the means of earning a living, they spiral into poverty.

It's not surprising that very little of this account of events makes it into the version of the New India currently on the market...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Evacuating the Settlements by Ami Pedahzur & Arie Perlinger

Already in late 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon started to devise a plan for the evacuation of the Jewish settlement and IDF forces from the Gaza strip. The disengagement plan also included the removal of four settlements that were located in the northern part of the West Bank (northern Samaria). At his point, Israel was still embroiled in the Second Intifada, and Sharon, similar to many other Israeli policymakers, felt that Israel, along with its military offensive, should present conciliatory steps in order to break the deadlock between the two sides and also encourage moderate Palestinians to resist prolonging the violence.

In early May 2004, the disengagement plan was approved by the Israeli government, and on October 26, 2004, the Knesset ratified the resolution. As was the case in the early 80's with the Camp David Accords, as well as a decade later after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the main resistance to the evacuation came from the settler movement and various religious Zionist streams and groups. They had organized countless rallies, demonstrations, and assemblies against he plan in order to mobilize public support. Rabbis once again insisted that the plan was an intolerable violation of the Jewish heritage and rules of the Halakha (Jewish Law) and that the evacuation had no moral or other legitimacy. The called on IDF soldiers to disobey the orders of their commanders, and some of them even urged more extreme steps such as illegal resistance. In consequence, the protest increasingly began to involve illegal activities whose intent was to disrupt the public order, such as blocking the main highways by crowding them with demonstrators or by putting sharp nails on the road. However, some of the initiatives went a step further and eventually developed into terrorist activities.

The first act of organized terrorism in response to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria came to light in early May 2005. There were three members in the cell: Rabbi Mordeci Levinstein, his brother Elitzur and a yeshiva student Avraham Levkowitz.. They had intended to pack and douse vehicles with flammable materials and ignite them near a busy interchange on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. It was a simple but potentially lethal plan. During the same month another daring plot by two Orthodox militants to shoot anti-tank missile at the Dome of the Rock Mosque, attack police responding to the explosions with hand grenades and then commit suicide by means of a pistol shot to the head. Just a day later Eden Natan- Zada, an Israeli army deserter, boarded bus no. 165 going from Haifa to the Arab city of Shfaram and at the end of his journey shot four of his fellow passengers to death and wounded thirteen others.

Never-the-less, the determination shown by the Israeli government in the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria settlements, and the fact that disengagement opponents were not able to prevent the process but at most confronted soldiers and police several hours before their eviction, sideline the news of Zada's murder spree. The overall impression was that the evacuation of the settlements was completed in a calm fashion and that Jewish terrorism was not able to rear its head once again.

About a half a year later, the government of Israel engaged in the removal of the settlers who illegally occupied structures in the settlement of Amona. Against all expectations, the confrontations between the settlers and the police during this evacuation were far more violent than those during the disengagement from Gaza. By the morning of the evacuation, it was clear that the process would encounter difficulties. The security forces learned that during the night hundreds of youths had made their way to the outpost and occupied the roofs of the buildings earmarked for destruction. In the area of the outpost itself, dozens of youth accompanied by Israeli right-wing members of parliament gathered and also tried to protest the impending evacuation.

At 10:00 A.M., police officers on horseback armed with clubs began to force their way into the outpost. The people on the roof responded with a barrage of rocks, metallic objects, and water mixed with paint. The protesters on the ground tried to prevent the manned horses from advancing towards the structures by blocking them with their own bodies. The police, who were themselves surprised by the intense response, countered with equal force and determination. They began to club the protesters. As the result of the fierce violence, more than forty police officers and demonstrators were injured at this stage of the incident. Member of Parliament Effi Eitam was hit in the head with a truncheon, and Member of Parliament Arie Eldad's hand was broken after being struck by one of the horsemen. Although some of the demonstrators tried to lie down in front of the tractor that was about to raze the buildings, by noon the police forces were able to reach the structures. Next, with the use of cranes and ladders, Special Patrol officers climbed onto the roofs and began to forcefully remove the protesters who tried to stop them and threw rocks at them. After four hours, the evacuation of all the buildings was completed; however the price was high: More than 200 were wounded, and 80 of them were members of the security forces.

The Israeli public was shocked at the violence. A doctor from the emergency room at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, where most of the injured were taken, said, "I have been working for 20 years at the emergency room and I have never seen anything like this before in my life. Terrorists in Nablus are removed with less violence than that which I saw today. I saw 14-and 15-year-old boys beaten hard; it's a miracle that none of the people I treated were injured more severely." The comanders in the field were taken aback by the violence and the need to deploy thousands of police officers. The chief of the Border Police said that for years he had not seen such ferocity: "The violence they used against the police was unlike anything we had ever seen...the police who climbed the ladders were in genuine risk of their lives. They threw boulders, rocks and pieces of iron at them."

The message that the government received at Amona was sharp as a razor. The helplessness displayed during the Gaza disengagement took the settlers completely by surprise. Up to the very last days of Israeli control of Gaza, many believed that divine intervention would halt the process. Others were afraid to confront soldiers of the army in which they themselves had served or were destined to serve. They also realized that the organization of the resistance left a lot to be desired. They had put their faith in the leaders of the veteran settlers, who had disappointed them. The events at Amona reflected the trauma they had suffered in the summer of 2005 and the degree of hate that burned in their hearts towards the government, which had cleared out strips of land dearest to them.

The events further confirmed our observation in regard to the struggle against the disengagement plan: that in the last decade a large counterculture collective has taken shape that encompasses formerly different counterculture streams. This new counterculture collective is a combination of hilltop youth, radical Jewish Zionists holding near-Kahanist ideology, Rabbi Kahane followers themselves, and various ultra-Orthodox groups, primarily from the Chabad movement. This collective is gradually detaching itself from the state, alienating itself from its symbols, heritage, and institutions, and even willing in times of crisis to act against its legitimate proxies. Based on these developments and the scenes and voices broadcast from Amona in the winter of 2006, we estimate that the soldiers and police who will be sent to evacuate settlements in the future will run into a level of violence that the State of Israel has not yet seen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Death of John Calvin by Alister E. McGrath

By the early spring of 1564, it was obvious that Calvin was seriously ill. His attendance at the weekly Consistory meeting had become increasingly infrequent in the winter of 1563-4, reflecting the decline of his health. From the list of symptoms which he described to a group of physicians at Montpelier that year, it is possible to infer that Calvin suffered from the symptoms consistent with migraine, gout, pulmonary tuberculosis, intestinal parasites, thrombosed haemorrhoids and irritated bowel syndrome. He preached for the last time from the pulpit at Saint Pierre on the morning of Sunday 6 February. By April, it was clear that he had not much longer to live. He found breathing difficult, and was chronically short of breath. Despite this, he managed to bid farewell to the ministers of Geneva on Friday 28 April.

The Discours d'adieu aux ministres is a moving document, at times verging on the pathetic. Calvin confessed that he was, and always had been, little more than a poor and timid scholar, who had been pressed into the service of the Christian gospel. One section of the document is of especial interest; in what might at first seem little more than rambling digressions, he catalogued some of the various disasters which had befallen him during his period in Geneva. People had fired their arquebuses in front of his door, and set their dogs on him. The significance of this portion of Discours d'adieu has not been fully appreciated; Calvin is clearly influenced by the 'catalogues of hardships' found in the writings of the classical period. He would have known this literary genre through two sources; the Corinthian correspondence in the New Testament- Rudolf Bultmann characterized 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 and 2 Corinthians 4: 8-9, 6: 4-10 as Peristasenkatalogen (catalogues of difficult circumstances)- and the writings of classical moralists, such as Seneca. Hardship seems to have been a constitutive element in Calvin's concept of his calling.

Calvin died at eight o'clock on the evening of 27 May. At his own request, he was buried in a common grave, with no stone to mark his own. There was to be no personality cult based upon him at Geneva. In death, as in life, Calvin proved self-effacing. Yet with his death, his influence upon the world proved to have only begun.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mainstreaming White Nationalism by Leonard Zeskind

Although the Goldwater and Wallace campaigns had demonstrated the possibility of a mass racist revival in the post-Jim Crow world, the Nixon presidency acted as a brake on its transformation into an autonomous movement independent of the two-party system. After the 1968 election, Nixon effectively absorbed the Wallace vote within the Republican Party ranks, thereby diminishing the chances that Wallaceites would create a permanent bastion outside the party. As noted by journalists Thomas and Mary Edsall in Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, Nixon slowed the pace of federally mandated school integration and nominated ultraconservatives southern judges to the Supreme Court. He also championed "law and order," while Vice President Agnew attacked liberals with the same vitriolic lingo previously used by Governor Wallace. But Nixon also implemented programs such as minority set-asides in construction as well as affirmative action at the same time. Much as in his diplomatic opening to the People's Republic of China, which angered onetime supporters of a more McCarthyite, anti-communist Nixon, the president co-opted and the defanged any embryonic movement based on white racial resentments outside the Republican... For white supremacists, the years 1968 to 1974 proved to be an interegnum and even after the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign in 74, and the United States effectively lost the Vietnam war, those elements of the far right that had supported both the war and its prosecutor were left (temporarily) adrift...

It is virtually a truism among human relations professionals that one way to smooth over America's racial fault lines is for black people and white people- indeed people of every hue and description- to live together in the same neighborhoods, eat together in the same restaurants, attended the same houses of worship, go to the same schools, and vote in the same precinct houses. In David Duke's various campaigns, however, there is evidence to the contrary. White people tend to be "tolerant"- a mealymouth term- up to a certain point. At that time, when the percentages change and white people approach minority status, they tend to run. The sociological literature on housing segregation makes that point over and over. The question that emerges from Louisiana in 1990 and 1991: What is (at least one) electoral equivalent of "white flight"? The answer appears to have been: David Duke. With all other variables being accounted for, the higher percentage of black voters in a county or metropolitan area, the higher percentage of white voters who pulled the lever for Duke. ( Conversely, in those areas with lower percentages of proximate black voters, whites tended to vote for Duke's [ more racially tolerant] opponents.)

During the weeks before the primary in 1989, Duke campaigned the old fashioned way- by knocking on doors. When voters answered, there stood a pleasant-looking earnest gentleman wearing a sportscoat and a tie while talking their talk. No scowling bigot in a white sheet or swastika armband. Duke told voters he was for "equal rights" for whites. Could he have their supports? Once they said yes, the rarely changed their minds. Could he put a DAVID DUKE FOR REPRESENTATIVE sign in their yard? Enough people said yes that his campaign gave the appearance of momentum. Politics is, after all, the grandfather of performance arts. The appearance of momentum produced momentum itself. His signs popped up on front lawns and busy intersections like mosquitoes swarming in a hot Louisiana swamp. Soon he wasn't a pest at all, but a contender. Duke was for keeping the homestead exemption on property taxes, his opponent wasn't. Duke was really against crime and the "welfare underclass". His Klan credentials proved it. His opponent was "just another pretender." Duke won and for the next three years debates raged among campaign professionals, academics, journalists, and civil rights activists over the "real" nature of voters support for Duke.

Duke had his own answer. He had beaten the president of the United States (who came to Louisiana to campaign against him) and the whole political establishment because he had vocalized what white people had privately thought, but could not say. And during the campaign he had avoided talking about those parts of his belief system that he knew were still out of bounds...

As the British historian Eric Hobsbawn had noted, anticommunism was at the core of the American biography as well. As an ideology it enshrined values, such as free enterprise and individualism, which were older and more deeply embedded than the principle of individual liberty without regard to race.. In addition, anticommunism was broadly popular as a glue binding the American people together. As such anticommunism during the Cold War period both dictated foreign policy and constituted the cornerstone of national identity.

With the end of communism, and thus of anticommunism, the question was asked: What would become of the American identity? Louis Beam and other Aryans had a ready answer. " What will now be the issue of main concern for conservative, right wingers and nationalists in the United States?" he asked in his small circulation newsletter The Seditionist. For Beam the answer was self-evident. The enemy would become the federal government in Washington, D.C., headquarters of the New World Order. "The evil empire in Moscow is no more. The evil empire in Washington D.C. must meet the same fate."

As the presidential primaries of 1992 came into view on the near horizon, a number would be challengers appeared, each hoping to replace George H.W. Bush. The post Duke Populist Party candidate blustered his way along a route of super-patriot stops and survivalist fest flops. Ross Perot railed against establishment politics while readying his own millions for a third party independent run. On the Democratic side, seven contenders vied for the public's attention. In Republican ranks, Pat Buchanan formally announced his candidacy for president, reclaiming the party's right flank for his own anti-New World Order politics.

Just week before, Buchanan had urged Republicans to adopt David Duke's issues: "The way to do battle with David Duke is not to go ballistic because Duke, as a teenager, parade around in a Nazis costume to protest William Kunstler during Vietnam, or to shout to the heavens that Duke had the same phone number last year as the Ku Klux Klan. Everybody in Metaire Co. Louisiana knew that. The way to deal with Mr. Duke is the way the GOP dealt with the far more formidable challenge of George Wallace. Take a hard look at Duke's portfolio of winning issues; and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles." Buchanan believed Duke's message was "Middle Class, meritocratic, populist and nationalist".

Buchanan quickly assembled a competitive campaign apparatus. As Willis Carto's The Spotlight newsletter pointed out: he became the nerve center of white nationalism in 1992. "Any hope that Duke had of mounting an effective challenge to George Bush ended with the entrance of Pat Buchanan into the Republican race. When Duke finally withdrew from the race, he endorsed Pat Buchanan; and endorsement Buchanan formally ignored. Touting issues such as white majority dispossession he received endorsements from throughout the (but not the entire) white nationalist movement, a fact studiously under-reported in the media.

David Duke Picks Up Where He Left Off by Leonard Zeskind

In April, 2004, after paying a $10,000 fine and serving a year in jail for mail fraud and tax evasion, David Duke picked up where he last left off. At a unity conference of white nationalists, his charisma and gift for public oratory set him apart from the other speakers. He cast adherence to the cause as the most selfless devotion to humanity, and he captured the gut anxieties of average racists like no other person of his generation. And when Duke introduced fifty-seven -year-old Sam Dickson, the acerbic attorney from Atlanta, it became obvious that both men felt they were preparing for the next generation.

Dickson revisited the white nationalist movement's underlying assumptions. "Our race needs a homeland where we can be by ourselves," he said, unpopulated by Muslims, Jews, those he called "Negroes" and other unspecified people of color. Liberals, specifically white liberals, stood in the way now. Then Dickson changed course and began listing reasons for hope in the future.

One was the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They had lifted the lid on the "Jewish issue," he said. For the first time anti-Semites could talk openly. Racial liberalism among whites, he argued, with its "Camelot" and "hootenannies" and Peace Corps, was a thing of the past. Those people thought they were going to turn "Ghana into Norway".", he said in a quick turn of phrase, but "nobody believes it anymore." Public opinion polls may show white support for "diversity" and desegregation, he told the crowd, but polling is about "public opinion", what you are willing to tell a stranger over the phone. Actual, privately held beliefs are more evident in the way people live. And white people will "pay $300,000 for a $75,000 home, just so they can live with other white people. Deep down, he claimed with a certain glee in his voice, they all realize "black people are hopeless."

Racial egalitarianism, according to his analysis, had rested on the prospect of seemingly unlimited economic expansion during the decades following World War Two. But the good times were over. Now, he argued, "The worse the better, let the bad times roll." Other factors were also changing. Television had once given liberalism a "media monopoly" Now the Internet provided open access to ideas of every kind. The liberal monopoly had ended, he proclaimed.

The most important change he noted that day was generational. The war against Hitler had once led white people to associate what he called "normal racial values" with Nazis, and they had been America's enemy. "The World War Two generation is being gathered unto their fathers.", he declared in triumph. With their deaths, he believed, remembrance of the fight against Hitlerism would fade. The postwar period would finally and completely end. And after stating the case for a brighter whiter future, the attorney sat down to deep and grateful applause.

In his talk that day, Dickson succinctly summarized the white nationalist case (as they understood it) for the twenty-first century. After thirty years of grassroots organizing, they had learned several of the more unsavory facts about American life. A significant number of white people, for whatever reasons, continue to buy overpriced houses just so they can live in all-white neighborhoods. Survey respondents are often less than forthright, particularly when responding to sensitive questions about race-related matters. Some white people will use racial slurs and tell jokes when talking with other white people but will not use them when talking within earshot of black people. The terms of public discussion changed sharply after World War Two and the civil rights revolution, and racism and anti-Semitism were no longer considered socially acceptable. Throughout the events described in this book, white nationalists aimed at transforming this social (and racial) discourse. And to the degree already discussed, they partially succeeded. In sum, a number of white nationalist leaders had a fairly accurate sense of the future direction of a sector of the white populace. And from this group the mainstreamers of the twenty-first century will continue to develop.

At the same time, white nationalists consistently misunderstand the larger world around them. A significant number of white people remain determined to live and live happily in a multiracial, multicultural United States. And they do not regard themselves as "race traitors",. Perhaps even more significant, black people and other people of color are not the passive objects of history. They are historical subjects in their own right. African Americans in particular had changed American life at every one of its critical junctures since the advent of New World slavery. Ideological thinkers on the white-ist side of politics remain completely blind to this aspect of the twenty-first century. And from this failure, vanguardists and Aryan killers will continue to pop up, at odds with the direction of American life.

In the future prerogatives now accruing to majority status will be challenged, as black, brown and yellow faces increasingly populate the halls of economic and political power. The presidency of Barack Obama only confirms the white nationalists notion of dispossession. And in the decades to come, the next generation of activists will seek to establish a white nation-state, with definable economic, political and racial borders, out of the wreckage they hope to create ( or is created for them) of the United States. Some will kill and bomb and shoot their supposed racial enemies. Some will run for elected office and win. They will fight for local (white) control. Failing a complete victory, they will continue the cultural battle over symbols from the past and the history of the future. And they will draw on the legacy of those who resurrected white supremacy as an autonomous movement in the 1970s and brought it into the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Know-how Was in the North by Chuang Chou

When Know-how was in the north at Dark River, he climbed Mt. Concealed Rise, where he met Perfect-freedom-behavior-utterance and said, "I should like to ask you three questions: Through what sort of thinking and reflection does one come to know God? Where and in what wise does one feel secure in God? Whence and via what path does one attain to God?" Utterance did not reply. It was not so much that he did not reply; he did not know how to reply.

Know-how, unsuccessful in his questioning, left and went south of White River and climbed Mt. End-of-doubts, where he espied Mad-abandon. Know-how explained what had happened and put the same questions. The answer was, "Oh yes! I know, and will talk with you about it." Then, right at that point, he forgot what he wanted to say.

Again unsuccessful, Know-how left and went to the emperor's palace, where he was received by the Yellow Emperor, to whom he put the questions. The Yellow Emperor replied, "Thought and reflection characterized by perfect freedom initiate a knowledge of God. Dwelling and dress marked by perfect freedom initiate security in God. Acceptance of perfect freedom and travel initiate attainment of God."

" You and I know this, but those two others don't. Who is right?"

The Yellow Emperor said "Perfect-freedom-behavior utterance is really right. Mad-abandon comes close. You and I are nowhere near it. True knowledge, you know, does not speak, and the speaker does not know. That is why the sages practice wordless instruction. God cannot be made to arrive. Perfect, natural action is not something one attains. To practice the human ideal is to give approval to calculated action. To practice propriety is to give approval to defects. Ceremony abets sham. That is why we have this saying: 'Having lost God one turns to perfect, natural action. When this has been lost one turns to the human ideal. When that is lost one turns to propriety, and after that to ceremony.'

"Ceremony is God in the minutest aspect; it is also the beginning of disorder. Hence the further saying 'The man concerned with God diminishes his artificialities more and more every day.' And after these diminishings are further reduced he attains perfect-freedom-action, after which everything gets done."

"Today", continued the Yellow Emperor, " something has been made, and if you wanted to return it to its roots, would it not be quite difficult? Ease in such an undertaking is only for God's man. Life is the companion of death, and death is the beginning of life, but who knows how to untangle the problem? The birth of a human being is an amassing of breaths. While the amassing exists life goes on; when it scatters death occurs. If death and life are companions, what have I to be anxious about? The conclusion is that all creation is one."

"The marvelousness in creation is what we praise; the stenches and decayings are what we dislike. But the stenches and decayings are again transformed into the marvelous, and this in turn is again transformed into stenches and decayings. The conclusion is that one breath pervades this world of ours. That is why the sages value unity."

But Know-how was still not satisfied.

"I put the questions to Perfect-freedom-action-utterance, but he did not reply. It was not so much that he did not answer me; he did not know how to do so. Then I put the question to Mad-abandon, who wanted to tell me but did not. It is not so much that he did not tell me, but right when he wanted to, he forgot what he wanted to say. Now I have asked you. You know the answer, so why are we not close to it?"

"The first one was perfectly correct," replied the Yellow Emperor, "because he does not know. The second resembles the truth because he forgot the answer. You and I are no way near it, because we know the answer."

When Mad-abandon heard about all this, he felt that the Yellow Emperor has expressed it well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Paradox of Nuclear Power by James Mahaffey

Radiation. Just the naked word, radiation, is enough to make us uncomfortable. The word carries a sinister, dangerous under-meaning, even to someone who has worked closely with it. I have stared, by way of a mirror, at the center of a nuclear reactor core at full power. I have gazed down into a swimming pool holding 700,000 curies of cobalt-60, I have dangled a californium-252 source at the end of a 10-foot pole, and still "radiation" gets to me. Our chimes are still vibrating, from being banged roughly during the periods of The Fantasy and The Puzzle, the newsreels of Chernobyl* and Hiroshima/Nagasaki* still burned in our brains. Radiation remains secretly harmful. You can just be standing there, feeling nothing unusual, while being killed by it, never mind being actively hit with it via a meltdown or a bomb.

The practical mode of nuclear power, fission, releases a tremendous blast of radiation in a wide spectrum, and extraordinary precautions must be exercised to prevent it from sterilizing the vicinity of the reaction. However, to put it in perspective, a major component of The Paradox of nuclear power is that far more people die each year of radiation-induced disease from standing out in the sun than have ever died from the (peaceful)application of nuclear power. There is, after all, radiation all around us. There has always been radiation penetrating our bodies, 24 hours a day.

I drew pay at Georgia Tech Research Institute for 25 years, with my office in the Electronics Research Building, or the ERB. It was a serviceable building, Spartan by contemporary standards, three stories, with an over-built steel frame, filled in with concrete blocks, completed in 1966. In the next lot, just north of the ERB, they had built the Frank H. Neely Nuclear Research Center in 1963. It contained a faithful copy of the 5-megawatt CP-5 heavy water reactor at the Argonne National Lab, hand-built and looking as if no expense was spared.

Being a nuclear research reactor, radiation monitoring at the Neely Center was taken quite seriously. Not only was the inside of the air-sealed reactor containment building monitored continuously at several key locations, the entire facility was wired for radiation detection, with a staff of trained health physicists constantly vigilant. One sunny day in in 1965, all hell broke loose. Radiation alarm bells started going off, indicating that there was an unintended critical mass of fuel somewhere inside. That was impossible. All the uranium in the facility was accounted for. The health physics team grabbed their portable counters, switched them on, clicked down-scale, and started scanning the floor to locate the source. The electronics maintenance team checked the alarm settings and started testing the equipment, beginning with the power supplies. The Geiger-counter-equipped health physicists followed the radiation out the front door and up the hill, south, to the adjacent building, which was under construction. Their alarms were being rattled, not by a mass of uranium accidentally dumped on the floor of a nuclear laboratory, but by a newly delivered load of construction materials for the seemingly benign Electronics Research Building.

The ERB was made of an enormous pile of concrete blocks which had naturally been supplied by the lowest bidder, a phosphate mine in Florida. A Florida phosphate digger makes a strip mine, and there is a lot of waste material that must be stored or gotten rid of. It made perfect sense to bake the tailings, form them into concrete blocks, and sell them for cheap in Georgia. It at least gets rid of the stuff. But there's a catch. Phosphate mines are unusually rich in uranium. Just about every dirt, rock, soil, sand or dust sample in the world contains at least a small amount of uranium. It is the most universally distributed material on Earth, albeit in diluted quantities; but phosphate mines are so uranium-heavy that the tailings are now considered to be a strategic resource. The ERB basically amounted to a big pile of uranium ore, and it was gradually decaying away into lead, shooting off a variety of rays, particles, and radioactive 'daughter products'.

The unusual nature of our building was never officially mentioned to the occupants, for fear of a stampede, but it was the talk of health physics meetings nationwide. I gained some amusement by parking a scintillation counter in the corner of my office and watching the rate meter climb off-scale to the right. Professionally, we call it "pegging the needle". Occasionally a colleague would see my radiation instrument going wild and ask, "This isn't going to...harm me, is it?

"Probably not," I would shrug. "By the time the cancer kicks in, you'll probably have heart disease." My sarcasm was often not appreciated.

In 2007 both buildings were torn down to make way for the new Nanotechnology Research Center. What is interesting is the way the two buildings were demolished. The reactor was covered with an air-tight plastic tent and was ever so carefully broken down piece by piece, over the course of months, extremely expensive work. The reactor containment structure had for all its life been kept spotlessly clean. Every surface was wiped, cleaned, polished and scrubbed to prevent the slightest buildup of anything radioactive and any hint of contamination would be noted on the constantly swooping instruments and treated rigorously. You could literally eat off the floor in that building. There was probably no public health hazard from striking that place, even without all the plastic sheeting.

The ERB, on the other hand, was blown down by a bulldozer and wrecking ball one work-day afternoon as the students and faculty strolled by. Three guys with garden hoses tried to keep down the choking dust as it wafted out of the wreckage, coating everything and everybody, deep down into their lungs, with pulverized, medium grade uranium ore. A plume of gray concrete dust drifted slowly over the campus, raining down what we used to call "fallout".

See what I mean, when I call it The Paradox? Much effort and millions of dollars were put into protecting the people on the Georgia Tech campus from radiation, but all the effort may have been directed into the wrong coordinates. The people were actually protected from something much more important than the inhalation of uranium. They were protected from the perception of radiation contamination. It will be hard to prove that anyone on campus on the day the ERB came down dies of lung cancer because of the dust, and I highly doubt that anyone will, but the perception of radiation exposure due to a decommissioned research reactor, if allowed to propagate uncontrolled, could bring down the trillion-dollar nuclear power industry. Tearing down a nuclear facility in the city of Atlanta in full public view in a plastic bubble showed good faith, even if it had the reality component of Disney World. The public is hyper-sensitive to the issue of industrial radiation contamination, and the psychology of it is very powerful. The general feeling took decades to fully develop, and the excesses of the Age of Wild Experimentation did not help dampen the growth of radiation anxiety.

*There were 55 recorded deaths from radiation exposure at Chernobyl, and many large, non-fatal doses. To be fair, it must be noted that 171,000 people died in China in 1975 when the Banqiao Dam failed, 18,000 people died in Bhopal, India, in 1984 when a valve was left open in a Union Carbide pesticides plant, and in London, England, 12,000 people died in a frightfully thick fog from sulfurous coal burning in 1952.

* A short time after the bombing of these cities they were both struck by a typhoon which washed most of the radioactive dust lingering in these cities to the bottom of the sea, rendering them habitable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Without Fidel by Anne Louise Bardach

The first obituaries for Fidel Castro were published in December 1956. It was then that the government of President Fulgencio Batista duped a gullible UPI correspondent named Francis McCarthy into reporting that Fidel Castro, and his brother Raul, had been killed in an ambush. In fact, the thirty-year-old leftist rebel leader was hiding out in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Desperate to jump-start his revolution- and his life- Castro dispatched an emissary to find an A-list messenger.

After a grueling trek, slogging through the near-impenetrable Sierra, Herbert Mathews, a star correspondent for the New York Times, was told to wait in the wet and chilly woods. It was dawn before Castro, ever mindful of stagecraft, finally descended from the hills- thus establishing his standard operating procedure with the media: Always keep reporters waiting, preferably in the dark, for as long as possible. The result was a heroic portrait that landed on page one of the Times.

From the beginning, newspapers and networks have maintained a standing obituary of Castro. It seemed only wise. After all, several American presidents had decreed that his elimination was a desirable outcome. Then there was the danger of freelance assassins- embittered, hard-wired exile militants- determined to wreak vengeance on the man who, in their view, had hijacked their country.

In the mid-1990s, high-decibel gossip that Castro had barely dodged a rendezvous with his Maker prompted news organizations to freshen up their obituaries. Pundits prepared their sound bytes, ready to yammer for their allotted seventy-five seconds of live television. And again, on June 23, 2001, following Castro's famous desmayo, or fainting spell, and the improvised oratory of his panic-stricken foreign minister, Castro's obits were rushed back to the rewrite desk.

The Castro obit industry cranked up one more time in 2004 when Fidel fell facedown splat to the ground. By then, Castro had made some unusual concessions about his mortality. Subtle but crucial changes signaled concerns for his health and the future of his Revolution. On July 1, 2006, Cuba's Communist Party decreed that the twelve-member Secretariat would be restored, thus enhancing the role of the Party when the transfer of power occurred. The Secretariat had been disbanded in 1992 after the Soviets dropped out of the picture. Henceforth, it would serve as the Party's steering committee and ensure that the Party (backed by the army), and its majority hardliner members, would play a central role in the post-Fidel era.

A month later, when Castro underwent emergency surgery (botched), the obit business roared into a frenzy and has remained on standby ever since. Over the next three years, Castro's obit would be revised monthly, sometimes weekly, at news bureaus around the globe. One reporter at National Public Radio lamented she had taped three Castro obituaries in the first year of his illness. In the second and third years of his infirmities, there would be many more revisions.

"We had to redo our obit several times," Anders Gyllenhaal, editor of the Miami Herald, said a year after Castro fell ill. Tom Fiedler, the paper's editor from 2001 to 2007, told Editor & Publisher that 'we had plans for Castro's death going back to the 90s. It was truly exhaustive, maybe more detailed than the Pentagon's plan to invade Iraq," Gyllenhaal told me in 2007. "We had internal workshops here about it and had to make big changes twice. Fortunately, we had a dress rehearsal," he added, referring to Castro's close call in July 2006.

A year later, the Herald was not feeling so sanguine. A senior editor, Manny Garcia, discarded traditional newsroom etiquette and penned a dishy, ornery brief in which he compared Castro to a "kidney stone- a constant pain who never seems to go away." Garcia explained his pique. "You gotta understand that the Cadaver-in-Chief is our story and biggest challenge," he complained. " We sit at meetings, long meetings, going over possible stories. Phrasing. Tone. Length. We've got at least five different versions of Fidel's obit, pegged to the time of day or night he dies. We built a Web page for the big day..." For journalists covering Cuba, whom Castro had long held in insect-low regard, the long dying of the Caribbean strongman had become one more indignity to be endured."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mountain Life by Omar & Najwa Bin Laden

I sat mute, feeling not one jolt of passion for my father's life. I only wanted him to be like other fathers, concerned about his work and his family. I didn't dare tell him the truth, that never would I understand why his mission to save the world was more vital than his duty as a husband and a father. When I sat staring without expressing excitement for his ideas, my father glanced at me in disappointment. He was accustomed to the passion of his warriors, men who hung on his every word, men who slept, ate, and drank only for the destruction of others.

That same passion did not exist in my heart. My father and I rode the rest of the stony highway in cold silence.

My father returned to Jalalabad with big plans. Now that he had the blessing of Mullah Omar, he would send for all his former soldiers. Some of the men had been with him in Sudan and their return would be easy. In fact, they would arrive on the same plane with my mother and siblings.

Although governments in the area did not welcome my father to live in their lands, because his passion to fight the non-Islamic world brought unwelcome attention from strong western leaders, ordinary people all over the Muslim world continued to celebrate my father as a great war hero. While Muslim governments distrusted, even hated him, their citizens loved him. In fact, as soon as the news spread that Osama Bin Laden was setting up new training camps for Muslim warriors, there were many eager recruits, all rushing to join the Jihad. With new recruits following the old, I was a witness to the making of a new army of eager Mujahideen.

Before long, my father would have more men than ever bowing to his ideas, willing to die for his cause. As they arrived in Afghanistan, I met many of those soldiers, because I was ordered to be by my father's side. I discovered that the mature soldiers who had fought with my father against the Russians were for the most part very good men. They had given up their personal dreams in order to free a Muslim country from the grip of a world power. Their purpose had never been to kill innocent civilians. But I noticed that while they seemed to enjoy the camaraderie of former soldier friends, they no longer seemed to have a fire in their belly for fighting.

The younger soldiers were distinctly different, their eagerness to kill and be killed so acute they swaggered with determination through the camps, warriors in the making. But when one looked closer, the quality of their characters appeared questionable. Many seemed to be running away from problems in their home countries. Some had fled to avoid being punished for violent crimes; for example, one of the younger soldiers bragged about slitting his own brother's throat when he discovered that brother having premarital sex. Others had lived in such severe poverty that they had only eaten meat a few times in their lives. Most could not afford to marry. Since Middle Eastern society promotes young marriage and many children, these men felt themselves failures at the achievements their culture held dear. Many were so miserable they felt themselves living in hell on earth, and were easily swayed by the Jihadi message to seek death so that they might soon be boosted into paradise.

I felt sorry for those young men. I knew they believed death to be a great reward, yet I never felt the urge to die; in fact, I did everything I could to stay alive. Though my own life was unhappy, I wanted to live and to pursue God's blessing of life on earth.

One day, while sitting on the edge of the ledge of Tora Bora Mountain and feeling particularly dismayed about my situation, my spirits instantly lifted when my father announced that my mother and siblings were departing Khartoum the following morning. I jumped to my feet, knowing that soon I would see my mother's sweet face. Although cross at the idea of what my mother's daily existence was about to become, I was still excited because I had not seen my dear mother in nearly four months. I wanted to shout with glee across the mountain range but muffled my excitement because my father did not approve of emotional displays.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ahmad Chalabi by Dexter Filkins

And so here was Chalabi, driving south in a convoy full of guns. After forty-five years in exile, he had come home to a strange land. In the West he was a famous man, and now a notorious one as well. He was a banker and a millionaire and a mathematics professor trained at MIT and the University of Chicago. But in Iraq his roots had withered and died. And so now, in January 2005, Chalabi was reinventing himself as an authentic Iraqi. He was running for a seat in the new Iraqi parliament.

Chalabi had entered his Islamist phase. In his speeches he had begun to speak reverently of Islam and the Prophet. In Baghdad, he had begun forming alliances with Islamist leaders, most notably, most remarkably, with Muqtada himself.

It wasn't terribly convincing. Chalabi did not wear a turban. He had no beard. He did not pray. He did not, really, even pretend. But as a practical politician- as an exile come home to a strange land growing stranger by the day- Chalabi had needed to do something. After ten minutes in the shrine, Chalabi emerged. He climbed into his SUV and sped away back to Baghdad. His goal had been accomplished. By morning, all of Najaf would know that Chalabi had come to pay homage under the golden dome of the Shrine of Imam Ali, the tomb of the son-in-law of the Prophet, the holy heart of the Shiite faith.

I pressed him on this bit of opportunism, but he would not give the game away. "It would be bad for me to do that," Chalabi said, cutting me off. "It defeats the purpose." Games-man, exile, idealist, fraud: Chalabi was someone who I never missed the chance to follow around. It wasn't just that he was brilliant, or nimble, or ruthless, or fun. When I looked into his eyes and saw the doors and mirrors opening and closing, I knew that I was seeing not just the essence of the man but of the country to which he'd returned. L'etat c'est lui. Chalabi was Iraq...

I asked Chalabi about the negotiations on the Iraqi constitution. It was the summer of 2005 and the dead line was near. The Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were at a standstill. Chalabi was intimately involved in every aspect of the negotiations. He spoke perfect English and perfect Arabic and his energy and intelligence were limitless. Even so, I had to be careful whenever I chose to rely on him. Chalabi always had his own agenda, usually several of them, which he worked on different levels, like a game of three-dimensional chess. Chalabi wanted a unified Iraq, but he was a friend of the Kurds, who wanted autonomy. He was an entirely secular man, but he had pulled close to Muqtada, who wanted an Islamic state. He wore suits and he wore dishdashas. Who was he this time? I felt like any member of the American government must have felt in dealing with Chalabi: was I getting more out of Chalabi than he was getting out of me? Or was I being conned and charmed into submission?

"We are on the brink of an agreement," Chalabi said. "Everything has been settled."

I took out my notebook. This was news. Chalabi's face was blank. What was settled, exactly? I asked.

"Oil", Chalabi said, spooning some ice cream.


"It's settled," Chalabi said, face still blank.

We talked details, about which Chalabi was distressingly vague. What's left to be settled? I asked.

Well, said Chalabi, there is no agreement yet on the role of Islam in family issues..."whether to allow clerics on the Supreme Court has not been decided."

I sighed. There wasn't much point in asking Chalabi where he stood on all these issues. I knew him too well for that; he would not have answered.

"It's the same old story", I told him, "You call it progress, you say you are near an agreement, but at each session you maybe solve half your differences. And then the next day you resolve half of what is left. But it never ends."

"Yes", Chalabi said crisply, glancing in Jim's direction. "Zeno's Paradox".

Jim nodded knowingly.

"An infinite converging series", said Chalabi.

"It's called Zeno's Paradox" , Jim said, jumping in, "You add an infinite number of smaller and smaller numbers together and get a finite sum. In other words, an infinite number of meetings and you get to the constitutional agreement in a finite time."

"Yes, exactly",said Chalabi with a smile.

"You'll never get there, I said, trying to pick up the metaphor, whatever it was, "because it's infinite."

"No," Chalabi said, smiling blankly. "That's not right."

Jim laughed. I tried to change the subject.

"Okay, you seem to be backpedaling on women's rights. You say you are secular, but if you let Islamic courts get involved in family disputes, then you are inserting Islam into the state. You are doing the Islamists' bidding."

"Absolutely false", he said

"But how can you square being secular with allowing imams to settle divorces and inheritance?" I asked

"Have you heard the joke about the rabbi and the priest on the airplane/"

How could I refuse? I didn't know the joke.

"A priest and a rabbi are riding on a plane," Chalabi said, leaning back in his chair. "After a while the priest turns to the rabbi and asks, 'Is it still a requirement of your faith that you not eat pork?'

"The rabbi says, 'Yes, that is still one of our beliefs."

"So the priests asks, 'Have you ever tasted pork?'

"To which the rabbi replies, 'Yes, on one occasion I did succumb to the temptation and tasted pork'."

Chalabi was grinning widely.

"The priest nodded and went on with his reading. A while later, the rabbi asked the priest, "Father, is it still a requirement of your church that you remain celibate?'

"The priest replied, 'Yes, that is still very much a part of our faith.'

"Then the rabbi asked him, 'Father, have you ever succumbed to the temptations of the flesh?'

"The priest replied, 'Yes, Rabbi, on one occasion I was weak and broke my faith.'

"The rabbi nodded understandingly for a moment and then said, 'A lot better than pork, isn't it?'"

Chalabi beamed at his joke, and Jim and I laughed. After a few more minutes it was time to go. Past curfew. The streets of Mansour were dangerous in the fall of 2005. Kidnappers and insurgents everywhere, even in Baghdad's best neighborhoods. Chalabi uttered something to an attendant, and we said goodbye. As we drove from the compound, a row of Iraqi police cars appeared, their blue lights flashing, getting in line to escort us back across town.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bataan Death March by Michael & Elizabeth Norman

Several factors contributed to the disaster that struck the U.S. army in the Philippines in 1941, the single largest defeat in American history. Although General MacArthur had at least 80,000 men on the islands at the time, thus outnumbering the Japanese invasion force by two-to-one, only about 8,000 were actually capable of putting up a fight. Many in the American ranks- logistical personnel- had received no more combat training than forced marches in basic training stateside months before. A large proportion of the ranks filled by Filipinos were reservists and militia, poorly equipped with little training. They faced the war-hardened troops of the 14th Japanese Imperial Army, most of whom had no expectation of returning home from the war alive.

Intelligence about Japanese intentions, capacities and preparations was inadequate and useful reports that did get through to the top brass at the Pentagon were brushed aside by a general consensus that their enemies would be a push-over. This problem was compounded by General MacArthur's self-aggrandizing and rosy reports about the progress of his own preparations and expectations about when the Japanese would invade. As it happened, immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor the most appropriate action would have been to bomb Japanese air bases on the Island of Formosa. This was not done and, furthermore, most of the the American air force was caught on the ground and wiped-out like sitting ducks leaving Japan with control of the air through-out their five month campaign to capture the island.

Further tactical errors were lack of logistical support for American and Filipino troops when they first confronted the Japanese landing force in Lingayen- gas for their transports and armored vehicles. Most disastrously, after MacArthur decided to take up defensive positions of the Bataan Penisula, he failed to secure sufficient food supplies to sustain resistance though it was available to him. His soldiers were thus, of necessity, placed on half rations as soon as the siege began. Shortages of clean water and medical supplies became apparent at the onset of battle. Thus, not only were the American troops prevented from counter-attacking at a point when Japanese strength was seriously depleted and attacks suspended pending reinforcement from the homeland, the strength and stamina of the Americans and their Filipino allies- their capacity to fight or even to survive captivity were dangerously undermined.

At the time General King surrendered the Japanese were expecting and had started to make preparations for the reception of approximately 40,000 P.O.W's. They got over 70,000, many of whom were already suffering the effects of combat wounds, starvation and various jungle diseases, including dysentery and malaria. But several cultural factors also contributed to the catastrophe which became known as the Bataan death march.

Maurice de Sax, Marshall general of France, believed that "the severe discipline" produced "the greatest deeds," and across the ages, East and West, men pressed into military service often learned the lesson of discipline under duress. The Germans favored the whip, the French the fist. In the Imperial Japanese Army, this "encouragement" (bentatsu, it was called) turned training camps into alembics, a closed world of violence where men were subjected to the most brutal system of army discipline in the world. Here the civilian in a man, all he had been or wanted to be, was beaten out of him. What was left were hollow, automatons living in a space, as one recruit put it, where "all breathable air seemed to be exhausted", "a zone of emptiness". Army life was ri ni kanawanai, "unreasonable." That was the word used over and over again, for the injustice was so great, the injury so painful, and the insult so severe, life in camp was beyond all reason.

When the first-year privates finally finished their pitiless apprenticeship, they were promoted to senior privates, stewards to a new cohort of conscripts. Now the bullied became bullies themselves. One group of primitives had created from itself another group of primitives, and all of the groups from all of the camps across all the home islands formed one great primal horde, 2,287,000 men who had been savaged to produce an army of savage intent.

Ambiguities in the command structure of the Japanese army compounded the problem. Orders from above- most often lacking specificity regarding actual circumstances in the field- were to be obeyed without questions or reservations. On the other hand field commanders lacked authority to discipline and control their immediate subordinates except in matters pertaining to their willingness to blindly sacrifice themselves and their men in the rigors of combat. In the Philippines, interlopers from the Imperial General staff such as in infamous Masanobu Tsuji, were dispatched to "advise" the commanding General- Fujiko Homma. An agent of Homma's political enemies Tsuji spent his time collaring divisional and regimental commanders and issuing ad hoc suggestions and orders 'to beat the westerners into submission", "mete out the severest punishments with no thought of leniency."

On the other side of the story, according to a U.S. Army report, "the average enlistee" in 1941 "was a youth of less than average education, to whom the security of pay, low as it was, and the routines of Army life appealed more than the competitive struggles of civilian life." They resented their officers, the army's remote upper class, and saw their sergeants as crude overseers promoted more for their mindless forbearance, their time in uniform, rather than their merit. They thought the training rote and stupid, drill for "nitwits": marching in formation, scrubbing barracks floors, shining shoes, standing frequent inspections. Instead of espirit de corps- a "moral force", Ardant du Picq said, that wins battles- the average soldier in the Army of the United States had espirit etroit, narrowing self-interest. "Don't stick your neck out," he would tell his buddies, then reach for another beer. The ethos of "every man for himself" did not work well in the severe trials of captivity and, as it turned out, officers were unwilling and often unable to exercise the authority that would have been necessary to protect the lives of the most vulnerable from the predatory circumstances of the sixty-mile march out of Bataan or interment in a hell hole like Camp O'Donnell.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Hitchhiker's Adventure in Iran by Jamie Maslin

When we sped past an army barracks, everyone, including myself, yelled drunken abuse at it out of the window. And the lads had good reason to do so as they'll all soon become much better acquainted with the army when they finished their studies and started compulsory military service. The irony is that if Iran is ever invaded then Pedram, Ali, Behzad, and all my other friends will all be called up to defend their country, and if they die they'll be written off in the West as expendable "legitimate military targets", not civilian deaths. With the way Iran is constantly demonized in the media, I fear this may become the case. For just like the American and British lies over Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, much the same is now happening to Iran over its alleged "nuclear ambitions", despite the fact that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have found zero evidence that Iran is trying to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has every right to enrich uranium for peaceful civilian purposes, and according to the IAEA, there is no evidence that Iran has ever deviated from this. This organization's head, Dr. ELBaradei, has reiterated this fact repeatedly and stated that his inspectors have for the most part been allowed to "go anywhere and see anything". Pakistan, India and Israel all developed their nuclear arsenals clandestinely and refuse to sign the NPT, but since their governments are buddies with the U.S. and Britain, no one makes such a fuss. Such double standards are not lost on the Iranian people.

What the U.S. and Israel craftily demand of Iran is to somehow prove it is not in any way violating nuclear agreements, which is of course impossible. And since you can't prove a negative the IAEA inspectors are obviously incapable of giving a 100 percent assurance that somehow, somewhere in Iran there isn't the fainest possibility that a nuclear weapons program exists. But this is no more evidence for one existing than to say that because I can't categorically prove Bertrand Russell's famous ironic suggestion that there is a celestial teapot orbiting the earth to be false, then, in fact, there must be one up there doing just that.

Even the CIA itself had admitted that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, by noting that Iran is ten years away from developing nuclear weapons. The importance of this time frame cannot be overstated, for it means Iran has no such program whatsoever, or, as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter put it in a recent speech, "Ten years, ladies and gentlemen, in this modern day and age, means Iran is not doing anything! Any nation in the world today is ten years from developing nuclear weapons!" In 2007, much the same was concluded when America's collective intelligence agencies produced an authoritative National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the current state of Iran's "nuclear intentions and capabilities". This report rubbished claims that Iran is trying to obtain a nuclear weapon and concluded with "high confidence" that as of 2005 Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program and had not restarted it.

Another oft repeated distortion to demonize Iran is that the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has stated that he wants to "wipe Israel off the map." My personal opinion of President Ahmadinejad is that he's an odious little twat, but when translated correctly, his alleged remark, which took place in a controversial speech in 2005, actually says something quite different. According to American professor of modern Middle Eastern history, Juan Cole, as well as other Farsi language analysts, the correct literal translation of the remark is, "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time." No reference to "Israel" or to a "map". And a regime is very different to the landmass of a country and its people.

Ahmadinejad had actually been quoting from a speech given by the late Ayatollah Khomeini back in the early 1980s which expressed a hope that one day the Israeli regime mistreating Palestinians would be replaced by a fairer, more equitable one. Also generally unknown is that Ahmadinejad compared the downfall of the regime occupying Jerusalem to the demise of the Shah of Iran. Jonathan Steele makes the following observation in an article for one of Britain's leading newspapers, the Guardian:

"The fact that he compared his desired option- the elimination of the regime occupying Jerusalem" with the fall of the Shah's regime in Iran makes it crystal clear that he is talking about regime change, not the end of Israel. As a schoolboy opponent of the Shah in the 1970s, he surely did not favor Iran's removal from the pages of time. He just wanted the Shah out."

The Missing Link by Colin Tudge

At its core, the story of human evolution is itself an evolving narrative, leading- in fits, starts and many blind alleys- from how we came into existence to who we are today. The details that we do have reveal that all humans are interconnected and related at some root level. But the story is a frustrating work in progress, told in long chapters filled with many blank pages.

Much of the evidence comes from fossils, at best an imperfect means of speaking to us. From a fossil to form, the creature must die in specific conditions. It must be covered soon after death in order to prevent it from being eaten by other creatures or decomposing due to the presence of bacteria. The creature's resting place must remain geologically stable for millions of years. And then it has to be found, properly extracted, and compared to the rest of the record. Only at that point can a new piece be added to the puzzle of our past and, possibly, contribute to what we understand about ourselves.

Sometime in 1982, on a routine day for most of the world, a man living on the outskirts of Frankfurt went on a day expedition to the coal- shale quarry in Messel, hoping to ad to his private fossil collection. While splitting the layers of shale, the fossil hunter stumbled upon a specimen which looked like an exotic monkey crushed to the thickness of a silver dollar- frozen in a fetal position, exactly as she had come to rest on the bottom of the ancient lake whose geological development formed the substance and structure of the pit in Messel.

The man realized he was on to something. He carefully extracted the fossil from the ground and diligently wrapped it in wet newspaper. He then returned to his house and probably employed an expert to prepare the fossil- its preparation was so skillful that just a handful of people in the world could have done it. It must have taken months of careful chipping away the shale and stabilizing the bones before the specimen was ready to be placed on a shelf in his basement with the others that he had excavated, away from the eyes of science and the public, for him alone to see.

In 2006 the anonymous man who discovered the fossil which has since been dubbed 'Ida" put it up for sale at the Hamburg fossil fair (the second largest such fair in the world) where it came to he attention Jorn Hurum, associate professor of paleontology at the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo, which finally agreed to purchase "Ida" for one million dollars.

Jorn Hurum and his team of scientists concluded from their first comprehensive study of Ida -the most complete fossil primate ever found- that she will have a significant place in the story of human evolution. At her simplest, Ida was a small leaping primate, probably nocturnal and probably vegetarian who lived 47 million years ago in a tropical forest not unlike the ones found in South America today. She died after encountering toxic gas released from the ancient crater lake, a recently broken right wrist and weak left arm had probably brought her to the ground by the shore and prevented her from scurrying to safety. Her remains were fossilized along with the gut contents of her last meal intact.

Remarkably, Ida displays characteristics of wet-nosed and dry-nosed primates, the prosimians and the anthropoids. However, she is a sui generis species. Her eyes are completely stereoscopic. She has a fused cranial plate, indicating increased brain growth. Her lower mandible is fused and her teeth are spatulate. Most important for placing her in the primate evolutionary chain, she doesn't possess a toothcomb or grooming claw, which are innate lemur traits.

Hurum and his team have concluded that Ida documents the moment when early primates were just about to split into two different lineages. Each lineage was successful in its own right, but at the end of the anthropoid lineage is the human, the most successful primate to have walked the earth. In other words, Ida appears to be an in-between species, or one of the long-sought missing links in evolution.; the biggest breakthrough in our understanding of primate evolution in thirty years.