Sunday, May 15, 2016


Saturday, May 14, 2016, Issue #227
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1.   Quotes of the Month
2.   Photos of he Month — Homeless in America  
3.   Global Protests Against Use of Fossil Fuels
4.   The Arsonists of Fort McMurray Have a Name
5.   U.S. Middle Class Shrinks as Incomes Fall
6.   Jobs for Young Graduates Still Weak
7.   The Cost of Justice Punishes the Poor
8.   DNA Secrets of Ice Age Europe Unlocked
9.   Russians Celebrate Victory Over Germany
10. Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic?
11. Animal Life in a Factory Farm
12. Greek Workers Protest More Cutbacks
13. Has South Africa Lost Its Way?
14. A Humanist Answer to Modern Technology
15. The Plight of Refugees In Greece


Armed Forces Day May 21 and Memorial Day May 30 provide us with an appropriate occasion to reflect on past and endless current wars. Over the years, a number of leading U.S. military commanders have done some reflecting of their own, occasionally with startling results, as these quotes from five American generals make abundantly clear.  They show a depth of understanding in retirement that was rarely, if ever, evidenced during active duty.

Gen. Philip Sheridan (1831-1888):  Named commander in chief of the U.S. Army in 1883, he is best remembered during his Indian-fighting days for the vicious phrase, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."  Later in life, he allowed a deeper comprehension of the imperial wars imposed on the Native American people for almost 200 years until their resistance was broken: “We took away their country and their means of support, and it was for this and against this they made war.  Could anyone expect less?

Maj.-Gen. Smedley D. Butler
Maj.-Gen. Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940), joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17, commanded expeditions in the Philippines, China, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Haiti, winning two Medals of Honor before his retirement in 1931.  Four years later, he made this extraordinary statement:  "I spent 33 years and four months in active service as a member of our country's most agile military force — the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to major general. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.... Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for U.S. oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.... I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras 'right' for American fruit companies in 1903.... During those years I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, and promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents."

Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964):  A military martinet he led the government’s violent attack against 20,000 poor veterans of World War I encamped in Depression-era Washington in 1932 in an effort to convince the Hoover administration to pay them their war bonuses ahead of schedule. He subsequently served as commander of U.S. forces in the Far East during World War II, and supreme commander of UN forces in Korea until he was dismissed by President Truman for advocating an invasion and nuclear bombing of China.  Testifying at a congressional hearing  on the military budget in 1957, his tune evidently had changed:  “Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear--kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor--with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”

Gen. DWIGHT D. Eisenhower (1890-1969):  Chief of staff of the U.S. Army, supreme commander of NATO, and President of the United States during the early years of the Cold War.  He bequeathed to his successor the CIA’s invasion plan for Cuba which he had secretly approved.  Upon retiring as president in January 1961, he issued the following warning to the American people in his Farewell Address:   “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry.... But now...we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, 3.5 million men and women are directly engaged in the Defense Establishment....This conjunction of an immense Military Establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience....We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications....In the councils of  government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist....Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together....Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.  Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Gen. Wallace Nutting (1928-   ):  Washington’s military overlord for the Southern Hemisphere, charged with keeping the lid on social unrest and preventing the rise of communism. He said upon his retirement as U.S. Army Chief of the Southern Command in 1983: “The fundamental causes of dissatisfaction in Central America are the existing social, political and economic inequities.”

2.   PHOTOS OF THE MONTH — Homeless in America

At any given time, more than 500,000 people will be homeless in the United States, about 25% of them children. This is an underestimate but it will do. Jobs are too scarce and/or low-wage, and housing is too expensive. The Housing and Urban Development agency reported 1.49 million individuals used a homeless shelter in 2014. This does not include those who sleep in the streets or the huge number of people doubled up with family or strangers. This commonplace crisis has reached the point where there are hundreds of  "tent cities" across the U.S. where the homeless congregate when allowed by the authorities. Reuters news agency has compiled photos and captions describing some of the inhabitants of the homeless camps. Here is a selection of five pictures. Each deserves to be briefly studied and thought about.

1. Living in a shantytown on a hillside in Seattle, Washington has given Matt Hannahs, 33, and his 6-year-old son refuge from soaring rents and the onset of winter. "Hopefully within a year from now we'll be settled into a new place and Devin will have a regular school that he can go to, instead of having to move around to different schools," Hannahs said. "Hopefully by then we'll have housing."

2. Kadee Ingram, 28, holds her son Sean, 2, at Share/Wheel Tent City 3 outside Seattle. Ingram lost her job, and soon afterwards her partner Renee lost hers too. "It got to the point where we couldn't get a job fast enough and we lost our apartment," Ingram said. "Coming here, we really like it, being outside especially, we feel safe. We wish we would have known about it sooner."

3.  Another Share/Wheel Tent City 3 resident Emma Savage, 6, opens a birthday card and presents given to her by her dad, Robert Rowe, 42, a day laborer who had just returned from a 12-hour working day.

4.  Aaron Ervin, 50, in front of his tent at Share/Wheel 3. "Tent City has been a saving grace for me, a place for me to refresh and gather my thoughts. While I'm here I want to lead by example and be a positive influence on camp. People feel safe here, they are tense from being wrongfully judged from carrying all their bags as being homeless and the camp makes you feel comfortable knowing you have a safe place for your belongings, which does a lot for people making them more relaxed."


5.  Clyde Burgit and his wife Helen, who had been at this camp for two weeks, sit on a mattress near their tent by the Watergate and Whitehurst Freeway in Washington, D.C. "Everybody looks out for everybody, this was great, and everybody gets along," Clyde said.


 Protesters in Albany, N.Y. May 14 marching to railroad tracks to prevent passage of oil trains.

By The Activist Newsletter

Many thousands of people engaged in direct action this month as part of a global wave of largely civil disobedience protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world.

The "Break Free From Fossil Fuels" protests were part of over 20 anti-fossil fuel demonstrations in 12 countries — the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, Nigeria, and Ecuador. and various partner organizations were behind the actions.

On May 12, in Lakewood Colorado, hundreds of people disrupted an auction selling off thousands of acres of public land for oil and gas drilling, Seven people held a sit-in blockading the room where the auction was being held, joined by many more in the lobby and outside the building. No protestors were arrested. The auction was delayed and then completed — minus some prospective bidders who were unable to make it inside the building.

Albany activists on the tracks, waiting for an oil train,

On May 14, over a thousand demonstrators took part in a Break Free march in Albany, N.Y., ending up by blocking train tracks near the port of Albany. Most of the marchers pledged to offer civil disobedience when facked oil trains pass through as usual. Meanwhile, protesters in kayaks awaited any passing oil tankers to block their passage as well. No oil trains entered the area of the demonstration but one train was stopped close to the Watervliet Reservoir in nearby Guilderland. Police arrested the five demonstrators involved. They were charged and released on their own recognizance.

Demonstrators in Wales signal that they have halted work in big coal mine.
On May 3, hundreds of environmental activists in south Wales invaded the UK’s largest opencast coal mine and halted operations across the vast site. Dressed in red overalls, groups of protesters crossed barbed wire fences to gain access to Ffos-y-fran mine near Merthyr Tydfil. Some chained themselves to machinery, others lay across access roads.

On May 4, 10,000 protestors came out in the province of Batangas, Philippines, against the building of 27 new coal-fired power stations.

In one of New Zealand's four protests, demonstrators targeted the large AVZ bank for "Continuing to lend billions of dollars a year to new coal mines and oil drilling projects – fuelling climate change." Many blocked the bank's entrances before they were arrested.

In Australia, Kayaks and boats closed harbor entrance.

On May 8, 2,000 people protested in Newcastle, Australia, calling for the government to take action on climate change and wind down the use of fossil fuels. Police arrested 66 people. Newcastle is home to Australia’s biggest coal export port. Hundreds of kayaks and boats blocked the entrance to Newcastle harbor in an attempt to stop coal ships from leaving or entering. Another group blocked train tracks used to transport coal on the Sandgate Bridge in the city’s northwest.

In a message as the protests began, 350.Org's Bill McKibben declared: "In one of the biggest coordinated civil disobedience actions the world has ever seen, frontline communities and climate scientists and indigenous people and faith leaders and just plain people who actually give a damn will be sitting down and sitting in and standing pat—blocking, at least for a few hours, those places where the coal and oil and gas currently reside, in the hopes of helping keep them there....

"The time has come to turn up the heat on the small band of companies and people still willing to get rich off fossil fuel, even though it’s now utterly clear they’re breaking the planet.

"The time has come to show that we understand we’re in this together across borders and boundaries. The time has come to take action commensurate with the scale of the problem. Yes, risking arrest is harder than signing a Facebook petition. But experience has shown it can often work—that’s what kicked the fight against the Keystone pipeline into high gear, turning it into the highest profile defeat of the oil industry in a generation. That’s what made it impossible for Shell to keep drilling in the Arctic, and for Adani to find the funds they need to build Earth’s biggest coal mine."

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, said: “If we are to meet commitments made in Paris to keep temperature rise below 1.5C we need to end fossil fuel extraction now. The UK government is failing to act to cut our carbon emissions, instead it is decimating the renewables industry, pursuing fracking and continuing the operation of opencast mines; the UK’s climate change and energy policies are in crisis."


A police officer walks past burnt-out houses in Fort McMurray. More than 90,000 residents were ordered to leave after shifting winds saw the blaze get out of control.
By Martin Lukacs

As the fire that ravaged Fort McMurray finally moves past the city, and the province tallies the heartbreaking damage, a search will begin to discover the source of the destruction.
Investigators will comb the nearby forests for clues, tracing the fire’s path to what they call its “point of origin.” They’ll interview witnesses, collect satellite imagery, and rule out natural causes—much like the work of detectives.

Except in the age of climate change-fuelled mega-fires, this truly is a crime scene.

Not, I mean, the handiwork of troublesome teenagers, nor a campfire left accidentally burning. The devastation of Fort McMurray is the predictable outcome of arson on an entirely different scale.
These arsonists have a name and they’re hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal. They’re the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box. The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions. The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences.

Yet in the fire’s aftermath, it has seemed impossible to name them: fossil fuel corporations. Of course they’re not the only ones who have fuelled climate change: all of us consume oil at every level of our lives. But the record is clear that we are not equally responsible: an astonishing 90 companies alone have caused two-thirds of global carbon emissions. And all the oil giants involved in the Alberta tar sands are among them: ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Total, CNRL, Chevron.
An emergency vehicle tries to get through.
In the last week, these corporations have escaped accountability as quickly as ordinary Albertans have risen to action. Across the province, people have opened their homes to evacuees, offered gas, shared food. The most marginalized have given the most: First Nations welcoming thousands to their communities; Muslims praying for rain at the Alberta legislature; and Syrian refugees, barely resettled in the province, gathering donations. Stories of heroism have abounded: like the school principal who drove a bus full of children out of the burning city, reuniting each one with their families, and filling extra seats with strangers from the roadside. At almost a moment’s notice, a province often written off as dog-eat-dog individualists proved the naysayers wrong: they have come together in a sprit of fellowship and solidarity.

Most of these people had no idea of the disaster that was coming. But there were some who did: the corporate arsonists themselves. As far back as 45 years ago, certain Canadian oil corporations already knew the lethal climate consequences of their business model. Last month, building on similar revelations about U.S. companies, investigative reporters discovered stunning proof in the archives of a Calgary museum — a clue as good as any about this mega-fire’s “point of origin.”

An uncovered report produced in 1970 by Imperial Oil, the Canadian branch of ExxonMobil, put it crystal clear: “Since pollution means disaster to the affected species, the only satisfactory course of action is to prevent it.” Except the oil company proceeded to spend decades lying about what they knew, and ensured the disaster would be as profound as possible. Little wonder the same company report branded its own actions as “anti-social.”

The very picture of anti-social? A fire ripping through a city. The incineration of homes. Irreplaceable possessions and family albums burned to ash. Climate refugees spilling across a province and country, stripped of their livelihoods and uncertain of their future.

Science may not show a direct link between climate change and the existence of one particular fire, but there is no doubt why the blaze that devoured the Alberta town was so powerful.

“We have loaded the dice for more extreme wildfires,” says Mike Flannigan, a wildfire scientist at the University of Alberta. “We attribute the increase in wildfires and their severity and intensity to human-caused climate change. We’ve been saying it for years. Many of us saw a Fort McMurray-like situation coming, but none of us expected anything as horrific as what has happened.”

Today, twice as much land in Canada is being devoured by fires as in the 1970s—and that will double or quadruple again in the decades to come. Climate change is putting such pressure on the boreal, which covers most of northern Canada, that a study published last year in the journal Science issued a stark warning: “this forest will convert to a type of savannah.”

To remain mute about those responsible for this devastation is not an act of sensitivity toward the citizens of Fort McMurray. It is to stand idly by while these corporations move on to claim their next victims. To argue, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, that making the connection between climate change and this infernal fire isn’t “helpful,” is not a gesture of statesmanly maturity. It is the prevarication of political cowards.
Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires collect donated necessities at the evacuation center.
Other politicians have adopted an even more toxic approach: not letting the crisis go to waste. Former Conservative natural resources minister Joe Oliver argued on national television that Trudeau should seize the fire as an opportunity to force through a tar sands pipeline to the coast. And British Columbia premier Christy Clark insisted the economic impact of the blaze could be balanced by ramming oil and liquefied natural gas projects through the regulatory process — doubling down on what helped cause this crisis in the first place. In the days ahead, watch for this argument to grow even louder.

But the greatest model of insensitivity is this: the arsonists don’t seem content with the burning of just one Canadian town. The latest climate science has told us exactly how much fossil fuels we can burn before we lock in catastrophic warming — warming that will make today’s mega-fire look modest. But companies have access to four or five times that amount in their reserves. They plan to extract and burn it all.

If we want to contain warming to the Paris climate accord’s target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will need to keep most fossil fuels in the ground — to strand these assets and shift to clean energy. But corporations have no such intention. “We don’t see any stranded assets. We think all our assets will be required,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson said after the signing of the Paris accord. It “reinforces our approach,” Shell added. In other words, they’re bent on arson on a global scale....

Continued at
The Guardian (UK) May 13. 2016.


By Christopher S. Rugaber, AP

The middle class is hollowing out in cities across America, according to a survey that studied 229 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas, which constituted 76% of the U.S. population. Income for the typical household fell in 190 of these areas.

According to a report released May 11 by the Pew Research Center A widening wealth gap is moving more households into either higher or mainly lower income groups in major metro areas, with fewer remaining in the middle. In nearly one-quarter of metro areas, middle-class adults no longer make up a majority, the Pew analysis found. That's up from fewer than 10% of metro areas in 2000. That sharp shift reflects broader erosion that occurred from 2000 through 2014. Over that time, the middle class shrank in nine of every 10 metro areas, Pew found.

By Pew's definition, a three-person household was middle class in 2014 if its annual income fell between $42,000 and $125,000. Middle class adults now make up less than half the population in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Houston.

Income inequality is lifting some Americans closer to the top even as people in the middle fall further. Median incomes fell 8% nationwide from 1999 to 2014. Yet the share of adults in upper-income homes rose to 20% from 17%. Middle-income households declined to 51% from 55%.

By the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), April 21, 2016

A new EPI analysis finds that while the labor market for recent high school and college graduates has improved, young people still face elevated unemployment and weak wage growth. Moreover, the overall improvement in the labor market for young graduates belies significant challenges faced by many young people, especially people of color.

In "The Class of 2016 Report," EPI senior economist Elise Gould and research assistants Teresa Krueger and Tanyell Cooke find the unemployment rate is 5.6% for young college graduates, while the unemployment rate for young black college graduates is 9.4% — higher than the unemployment rate for young white college graduates was at the peak of the recession (9%). The unemployment rate is 17.9% for young high school graduates — still higher than it was before the recession.  The unemployment rate for young black high school graduates, meanwhile, is 28.4% — nearly double the unemployment rate for young white high school graduates (14.6%).

"The job market is improving but many young graduates are still suffering," said Gould. "What’s more, it’s important to realize that most young workers do not have a college degree. We have to do more to improve the availability — and the quality — of jobs for young high school graduates."

Over the last year, real wages picked up for both young high school and college graduates, who saw wage growth of 3.3% and 3.1%, respectively. However, this recent wage growth is largely driven by a decline in inflation, which is unlikely to lead to durable wage growth in the future. Moreover, even with last year's increase, wages for young high school and college graduates are still about the same or lower than they were in 2000.

"The labor market has clearly improved for the class of 2016," said Krueger, "but when you look under the hood, there’s continued weakness for women, people of color, and workers without a college degree."

The report shows that, despite similar experience, young female high school and college graduates still face gender wage gaps. The gender wage gap for college graduates increased in 2016, as wages for young male college graduates increased while wages for young female college graduates were stagnant.

"Even right out of school, women are paid less than men," said Cooke. "By definition, they have the same experience, and yet young women are paid less. This wage gap persists and results in lower earnings throughout a woman’s career."

The gender wage gap actually narrowed slightly for high school graduates, as young female high school graduates experienced notably higher wage growth than their male counterparts. This difference may be due to state minimum-wage increases over this period, which had a larger effect on women’s wages due to the disproportionately high composition of women in low-paying jobs.

— The full report is at


Lawyers from New York's Legal Aid Society and supporters staged a rally last July on the one-year anniversary of the police choking death of Eric Garner, who repeatedly said "I can't breath," to no avail. They were protesting that Police Officer Daniel Panataleo received no criminal charges. They demanded that Panataleo be fired from the NYPD. There have been no such charges to this day, although the federal Justice Department is still investigating. Unfortunately there are too few public defenders available to the average poor person or family that needs legal aid.
By Alice Speri

In the American justice system, there’s often an assumption that if you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you. But thousands of Americans arriving in court each year over family disputes, domestic violence, eviction, foreclosure, denied wages, discrimination on the job, and an array of other civil issues have no right to counsel. If they can’t afford a lawyer, they’re on their own to face a system that is often confusing and riddled with fees. For poorer citizens, the cost of seeking justice often becomes so prohibitive they just give up.

Even as criminal justice reform and the reduction of mass incarceration gain support across party lines, civil rights advocates warn that the inaccessibility of the civil justice system tends to channel people into the criminal system. Those with no access to the courts are more likely to take justice in their own hands, lose homes, or face incarceration over failure to pay child support or fines they can’t afford. For some, denials of justice in civil cases can lead to crimes of survival.

A national survey published by the National Center for Access to Justice this week found that people in poverty have virtually no access to civil aid attorneys — only .64 (two-thirds of one lawyer) are available per 10,000, as opposed to an average of 40 lawyers per 10,000 people in the general population. “I don’t think most people appreciate how high the stakes are in our civil justice system,” said David Udell, executive director of the group. “The justice system on the civil side has to work in order to reduce conflict. If the civil justice system doesn’t work, there is a slope that leads into the criminal justice system.”

Civil legal aid attorneys — only 6,953 out of some 1.3 million lawyers nationwide — are funded by a combination of federal, local, and private money, but with some 21 million new civil cases filed every year, a majority of poor people seeking civil legal aid are turned down.

In its 2011 decision Turner v. Rogers the Supreme Court reiterated the longstanding principle that government has no obligation to provide free legal counsel in civil matters and ruled out a publicly appointed defense for a man facing jail time over his failure to make child support payments. Yet the court also declared that states must ensure court procedures are fair to those who can’t afford representation.

That shifted the burden to the courts, tasking them with making the legal system more accessible, for example by incorporating technology to help those representing themselves and using “plain English” in legal procedures and documents, and calling on judges to explain expectations to people without a lawyer.

So far, only a handful of states have moved to eliminate barriers to civil justice: among them, California and New York have introduced computer-assisted programs for court papers that help people fill out documents by asking them questions. But for the most part, major obstacles remain for the poor. Only 12 states, for instance, require courts to inform people that they don’t have to pay court fees if they can’t afford them — fearing daunting costs, many just give up on their claims.

Unaffordable justice is not only an issue in civil matters, of course. Poor — and minority —Americans are disproportionately represented across the entire justice system. In criminal cases, the disproportion grows between jail and prison populations, as poor people jailed while they await trial are regularly unable to meet bail.

A report published earlier this week by the Prison Policy Initiative singled out high bail as the largest factor driving pretrial incarceration, noting that 37% of those held in jail made less, annually, than the median bail amount of $10,000. For the average jail detainee, that’s about eight months of income.

That means that while in theory justice applies equally to all Americans, in practice, the cost of liberty is far higher for the poor — leading to unnecessary detention in often overcrowded jails, causing poor defendants to miss and lose work, burdening them with “pay to stay” costs as they are charged for their own incarceration, and ultimately trapping them in a crippling cycle of debt and detention.

That’s not only senseless — it is also illegal. After the United States banned debtors’ prisons at the federal level in 1833, most states also banned the practice, yet imprisonment for nonpayment of child support, alimony, fines, traffic tickets, and other state-mandated forms of debt remains widespread. As the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, dramatically exposed, local governments across the country have often relied on tickets and fines to fund their budgets, a practice so common that the DOJ’s civil rights division recently issued a memo reminding courts of the basic constitutional principles of due process and equal protection.

 The memo also reminded “court leaders” that profiting off indigent defendants is illegal, and that funding government on the backs of poor citizens has a deeply damaging impact on public trust in its institutions.
Restoring trust in those institutions might start with making sure that they are truly accessible to all, and that justice, civil or criminal, is equal in practice as well as in principle.

— From the Intercept, 5-13-16,


This picture is a reconstruction of an Ice Age woman based on remains from Abri Pataud, a prehistoric shelter site in southwestern France that lasted until 17,000 years ago. Analysis of genes carried by Ice Age Europeans shows, among other things, that they had dark complexions and brown eyes. The last Ice Age peaked 21,000 years ago and ended about 11,500 years ago.
(Photo credit: S. Entressangle/E. Daynes/Science Photo Library)

The French sculptor
Élisabeth Daynès created
a silicone model of the
prehistoric woman, thought
to have died aged 20, based
on the skeleton at Abri Pataud.
The coyote-skin stole is also a
close representation of what a
pre-historic woman would
have worn.

By Paul Rincon

A study of DNA from ancient human bones has helped unlock the secrets of Europe's Ice Age inhabitants. Researchers analyzed the genomes of 51 individuals who lived between 45,000 years ago and 7,000 years ago.

The results reveal details about the biology of these early inhabitants, such as skin and eye color, and how different populations were related. It also shows that Neanderthal ancestry in Europeans has been shrinking over time, perhaps due to natural selection.

The study in Nature journal shines a light over some 40,000 years of prehistory, showing that ancient patterns of migration were just as complex as those in more recent times.

Some of the earliest arrivals on the continent contributed little to later populations. But between 37,000 years ago and 14,000 years ago, different groups of Europeans were descended from a single founder population. The fortunes of these human hunting groups were often linked to changes in the climate.

Co-author Prof. David Reich, from Harvard Medical School, said the 51 ancient individuals comprised "a pretty substantial fraction of the known human skeletons in this period. He told BBC News: "Because we've studied so many ancient humans from Europe from the beginning of the modern human occupation, we're able to form a picture of how populations transformed over time."

Prof Reich, Svante Paabo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and others found evidence that people belonging to one of Europe's most important Ice Age cultures — the Aurignacian — were displaced between 34,000 and 26,000 years ago by another group of humans called the Gravettians.

After 14,000 years ago, Europeans became more closely related to populations from the Middle East, the Caucasus and Turkey. This happens to coincide with the first major warming period at the end of the Ice Age and could reflect an expansion of people from the South-East.

"We see multiple, huge movements of people displacing previous ones," said Prof Reich.
"During this first four-fifths of modern human history in Europe, history is just as complicated as it is during the last fifth that we know so much more about."

Analysis of genes carried by Ice Age Europeans shows, among other things, that they had dark complexions and brown eyes. Only after 14,000 years ago did blue eyes begin to spread, and pale skin only appeared across much of the continent after 7,000 years ago — borne by early farmers from the Near East.

Early European populations possessed more Neanderthal ancestry than present-day people, consistent with the idea that much of the DNA we inherited from the Neanderthals had harmful effects. Scientists think this inheritance was progressively lost via natural selection.

What seems clear is that most modern populations offer only hazy glimpses into the past, because their genetics are shaped by relatively recent patterns of migration....

— The author of this May 2 article is the BBC Science editor.


By the Activist Newsletter

Elderly Russian veterans of World War 2 were invited to Red Square to view the military parade marking the 71st Victory Day in Moscow, May 9. Russia hosts the annual military parade to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany, with over 10,000 soldiers and veterans participating. Hundreds of thousands of civilians watched the parade. Many other observances were held throughout the country. A total of 27 million Red Army soldiers and civilians died in the war, far surpassing any other state.

In his speech, President Vladimir Putin said: "Our soldiers and commanders have proved that they are worthy successors of the Great Patriotic War heroes and that they honorably protect the interests of Russia." The New York Times reported: "Victory Day has also become a festival of Soviet nostalgia, with Mr. Putin greeting soldiers as "comrades," citizens donning Red Army hats and, in some cases, full uniforms, and state-run television channels showing little but war movies and footage of the parade.



By the Activist Newsletter

A leading member of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu cabinet declared May 17 that any criticism of Israel is a form of anti-Semitism. This apparently is the government's position since there has been no disapproval of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's remark from other leading officials.

Members of the right wing government are reported to share this extreme interpretation, which seems to contradict the perspective of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the principal organization fighting anti-Semitism in the U.S., which it has done for over 100 years. It is inaccurate, ADL holds, when " Jews unfairly label anyone who criticizes Israel an anti-Semite."

Shaked spoke at a meeting of international jurors, legal scholars and political leaders in Krakow, Poland, marking the 80th anniversary of the Nuremberg Race Laws adopted by Nazi Germany and 70 years since the Nuremberg trials that prosecuted Nazi war criminals.

According to the Washington Post the Israeli minister questioned whether Europe had really learned any lessons from the Holocaust: "We can still witness anti-Semitism today. In fact, the anti-Semitic voices seem to get louder and stronger still" she said. “We witness anti-Semitic attacks in the heart of Europe. We hear anti-Semitic slanders in European media. We feel anti-Semitic hatred in the continent that should have learned the lesson.”

In an interview with the same newspaper later that day, Shaked said: "In the past, we saw European leaders speaking against the Jews. Now, we see them speaking against Israel. It is the same anti-Semitism of blood libels, spreading lies, distorting reality and brainwashing people into hating Israel and the Jews. Today, it is not politically correct to be anti-Semitic but being anti-Israeli is acceptable. People who have such anti-Semitic views should not be allowed to hold central leadership positions." She claimed that advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) are "simply swapping old anti-Semitic tropes for a new format."

According to the ADL: "Certainly the sovereign State of Israel and its government can be legitimately criticized just like any other country or government in the world. Criticism of particular Israeli actions or policies – even harsh and strident criticism and advocacy — in and of itself does not constitute anti-Semitism."

However, the organization hastened to add two exceptions that are not distant from Shaked's views:

1. "When critics of Israel advocate policies which would effectively lead to the demise of the Jewish character of the state – such as calls for a 'one-state solution' for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.... Although some advocates may not appreciate the destructive consequences of these policies, these policies are anti-Jewish in their impact."

2. "Even if strident anti-Israel activism is not motivated by anti-Semitism, at times, these campaigns create an environment which make anti-Semitism more acceptable. As then President of Harvard Lawrence H. Summers said in 2002 in reaction to an anti-Israel divestment campaign on campus, such advocacy is 'anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.'" 

Objectively, advocacy of the single state solution and BDS are not anti-Semitic, but according to the subjective logic of the ADL and Summers they are. The distinction between righteously condemning the plethora of illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank Palestinian territory, or criticizing Israel for the grossly disproportionate bombings of Gaza and for the mass destruction of Palestinian homes becomes anti-Semitism according to such logic.

By these standards U.S. citizens who oppose President Obama's killer drone program could be categorized as anti-American, and one who objects to police brutality in the line of duty could be designated an opponent of law and order. Indeed, Jewish activists in our country who fight anti-Semitism but also criticize Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people often are crudely characterized as "self-hating Jews."

— BDS is circulating a petition urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to take the necessary measures to uphold and protect the rights of Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders who campaign nonviolently for Palestinian rights, including through the BDS movement. You may sign up at:  

 It's a beautiful picture postcrd farm, isn't it. But they won't let you in inside because
you might tell what you saw in this corporate owned factory
 farm, or worse yet, sneak a photo. 
[Nearly 10 billion farmed land animals were slaughtered in the U.S. in 2015 to provide meat for homes and restaurants. That's over 30 dead animals a year, mostly chickens (and not including fish), for every man, woman and child in America (adults of course eat much more meat than kids). Over 99% of these animals are raised on what are called factory farms — large, industrial operations that focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of animal welfare. These enterprises bear no relationship to most people's notions about farm life and animals.]

By the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Factory farms pack animals into spaces so tight that most can barely move. Many have no access to the outdoors, spending their lives on open warehouse floors, or housed in cages or pens. Without the room to engage in natural behaviors, confined animals experience severe physical and mental distress.

Daily life in a factory farm is one of pain, frustration and misery — and animals are not the only ones suffering. Human health and our environment are being hurt by factory farming, too.

Farms that are not properly maintained can be breeding grounds for salmonella and E. coli, which are passed to humans through meat, dairy and eggs. To combat these unsanitary conditions, animals are fed large doses of antibiotics — but bacteria is constantly adapting and evolving. Antibiotic abuse creates the potential for dangerous, new drug-resistant strains of bacteria to develop and spread among people.

Waste runoff from factory farms pollutes the water, land and air in neighboring communities, compromising both human health and quality of life. At the same time, these businesses consume massive quantities of precious, finite resources including water and fossil fuels.

This corporatized, industrialized form of agriculture has largely wiped out America’s independent family farms — with catastrophic consequences for animals and people alike. While we fight for stronger laws, we can make a difference today through more humane farming, welfare-conscious shopping and reduced consumption of animal products.

While most Americans expect our laws to protect farm animals, the reality falls far short. Animals raised for food are among the least-protected class of animals in our nation.

The U.S. has no federal laws protecting farm animals while they’re actually on the farms where they are raised. Two federal laws cover farm animals during transport and slaughter, but tragically, all poultry species are excluded, making these protections inapplicable to 95% of land animals killed for food.

Hardly enough room to turn around.

Transport: The 28-Hour Law requires that animals transported across state lines for slaughter — by means other than water or air — be unloaded every 28 hours for rest, food and water. In addition to excluding poultry, this law is riddled with loopholes.

Slaughter: The Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act requires that livestock be quickly rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. In addition to excluding poultry, the law exempts certain forms of religious slaughter such as Kosher and Halal.

State Laws: Because federal law fails to protect most farm animals, state laws are these animals’ last defense. The majority of U.S. states expressly exempt farm animals, or certain farming practices, from their anti-cruelty provisions, making it nearly impossible to provide even meager protections. Exemptions usually include common agricultural practices that, while common, are often shockingly cruel.

Although some states include farm animals in at least some of their anti-cruelty laws, such laws are rarely enforced in favor of farm animals. Over the past few years, "ag-gag," or anti-whistleblower bills, have been appearing in state legislatures across the country. While crafted to appear reasonable, these measures are designed to prevent the exposure of troubling practices at agricultural facilities.

[From the Activist newsletter: We have appended the following paragraphs from Food and Water Watch to provide additional information about farmed animals.]

The immense demand for meat and other animal products (such as dairy and eggs) is typically met through intensively-raised animal agriculture known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farming. Below are descriptions of standard operating procedures for these intensive farming systems that are responsible for the vast majority of animals raised for food....

Cows and steers raised for beef are typically confined in feedlots that can pack together thousands of animals. These animals may have little or no protection extreme weather conditions. They may be castrated, de-horned, and/or branded without the aid of painkillers.

Cows raised for milk (dairy cows) also spend much of their life severely confined. Twice a day or more, they are attached to milking machines. Some are injected with bovine growth hormone to boost milk production.

To maintain milk production, cows are continuously impregnated in what the industry calls “rape racks.” The newborn calves are removed from their mothers immediately after birth to prevent a drop in milk production in the mother.

Most of the male calves are raised and slaughtered for beef. Some are chained by the neck in wood crates for 16 weeks and slaughtered for veal. Most female calves are placed in the dairy herd. When dairy production declines, the cows are slaughtered for beef. Each year, about 39 million cattle and calves are killed for food in the U.S.
Gestation crates for pregnant pigs. They can't turn around or move.

Pigs — breeding sows are repeatedly impregnated and kept in cramped metal gestation crates, which do not allow them to turn around. They give birth and nurse their litter of 10-12 piglets in farrowing crates, nearly as cramped as the gestation crates. The natural nursing period of 12 weeks is cut to 2-4 weeks, so that the sows can be impregnated again. After 3-4 years, they are sold for slaughter.

Approximately 20% of the prematurely weaned piglets die of stress and disease. The survivors are tagged and castrated without anesthesia, then placed in stacked wire cage “nurseries” and fed a synthetic milk replacer. When able to eat solid food, the piglets are transferred to crowded pens, where they are kept for six months, then slaughtered. More than 120 million pigs are killed for food in the U.S. each year.

Chickens – Egg-Laying Hens (Layers). Male chicks (who won’t lay eggs) are typically macerated (ground alive) or dumped into plastic bags left to suffocate. The females have the tips of their beaks seared off with a hot iron to prevent the stress-induced pecking of other hens.

They are crammed 5-7 birds into wire-mesh cages the size of a newspaper page stacked on top of one another. The birds must stand on a sloping wire-mesh floor, which cuts their feet, while the wire-mesh walls rub off their feathers and bruise their skin.

When the birds are about 15 months old, they are "force-molted," which entails keeping them in low lighting and feeding them a low-calorie diet for seven to 14 days, which stresses their systems and increases egg production for about six more months. Afterwards, they are sent to slaughter. More than 450 million chickens are killed for eggs in the U.S. each year.

Ducks. They can't get out.

Chickens – Raised for Meat (Broilers). Chickens raised for meat are generally crowded into large sheds that can hold tens of thousands of birds. Because they are bred to gain weight quickly, many birds are crippled by their own weight and unable to walk. Over time, the building fills with the poisonous stench of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane. After seven weeks, the chickens are transported to slaughter. About 9.5 billion chickens are killed for meat in the U.S. each year. More than 300 million turkeys (U.S.) are raised under similar conditions and slaughtered for meat.

Wildlife — In addition to the almost 10 billion land animals killed in the U.S. each year directly for human consumption, hundreds of thousands of wild animals (prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, bison, and others) are exterminated to keep them from interfering with agricultural operations. Similarly, tens of millions of starlings and blackbirds are poisoned each year to keep them from eating animal feed. An even greater threat to wildlife is posed by the destruction of their habitats. Animal agriculture turns hundreds of acres of forest, wetlands, and other habitats into grazing and animal feed crop land.

Corporations  Crack Down —The major corporations behind factory farms take legal and other actions to prevent the truth about animal abuse from reaching the broad public.  In addition, environmental offenses, unsafe working conditions., and food safety violations happen every day on factory farms, and the meat and egg industries don’t want you to know about it. That’s why whistleblowing employees and undercover investigations are so important in bringing about reform. But instead of cleaning up their act, agribusiness would rather just make it illegal to expose these problems. That’s why they’re pushing “ag-gag” bills across the country.

According to the Humane Society of the United States: "Ag-gag bills seek to make it difficult or impossible for whistleblowing employees or animal advocacy groups to expose animal cruelty or safety issues. These bills can take a variety of forms, but the intent is the same: to punish those who expose patterns of animal abuse or food safety violations on factory farms, and therefore conceal these abuses from the public. 

"Initially, ag-gag bills were designed to punish anyone who videotapes cruelty. When these bills started succeeding in the courts, they evolved to include persecuting anyone who 'misrepresented' themselves on a job application — targeting investigators who seek employment for the purpose of going undercover. In their latest iteration, many ag-gag bills are now "quick reporting" bills, requiring undercover investigators to turn over footage almost immediately. This type of bill prevents investigators from documenting a pattern of abuse, which is often required for a full legal case. The factory farm operator will then call any violation an isolated incident, and avoid meaningful repercussions."

— The Humane Society. has produced a secretly filmed a 3 min. 30 sec. video titled "Pigs Suffer at Iron Maiden" at


Two young women workers chant slogans during a mass demonstration in Athens, Greece, May 6, staged by labor unions in a three-day general strike. They protested against government plans to reduce pensions and increase taxes to meet demands of its EU creditors. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appealed to reluctant lawmakers to approve the overhaul as part of a $6.2 billion bailout.

The walkout was the second general strike of this year. It left ships docked at port, disrupted public transport and kept civil servants and journalists off the job. Greece's largest labor union, the private sector GSEE, said the reforms going before parliament were the "last nail in the coffin" for workers and pensioners who had sacrificed enough after six years of austerity. Thousands of protesters with the Communist-affiliated union PAME marched before parliament holding banners that read: "Rise up now!" and "Resist".


Massive student protests have been taking place since early last year. At first students
 demanded  lower tuition costs and other educational concerns but they have developed into
demands for the ouster of President Jacob Zuma. The following pictures are from several rallies.
By Cherrel Africa and Jessica Piombo

South Africa is in the middle of a period of political and economic unrest unlike anything the country has experienced since the end of apartheid in 1994.

In March 2015, students at the University of Cape Town launched the #Rhodesmustfall campaign, aimed at bringing down a statue of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Since then, students have regularly stormed the nation’s universities, labor unions have held strikes, and populist social movements have taken to the streets. The protesters have called for wholesale reform of the country’s economy and directly challenged the ruling African National Congress.

The ANC itself is in crisis, divided between supporters and detractors of South African President Jacob Zuma. On March 31, the country’s highest court ruled that Zuma had failed to uphold the constitution when he ignored a state order to repay government funds used in a $23 million upgrade to his private residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal. And on April 29, the High Court in Pretoria ruled that the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Mokotedi Mpshe, had acted irrationally when he had dropped corruption charges against Zuma in 2009. Although the opposition failed in its bid to impeach Zuma, the National Assembly remains fractious and divided. The Nkandla revelations and growing dissatisfaction with Zuma have sparked broader protests about poor living standards, low economic growth, high unemployment, and political stagnation.

Police often resort to tear gas.

The roots of the current crisis lie in the country’s tortured past. Since the end of apartheid, the number of people who live in absolute poverty has fallen, and access to and quality of services has improved, but unemployment, crime, and housing remain the top three concerns of South Africans, as they have been since the mid-1990s. In fact, the gap between rich and poor has widened: South Africa’s Gini coefficient, a measure of economic inequality ranging from 0 (perfect equality) to 1 (perfect inequality), increased from 0.62 in 2008 to 0.70 in 2013; by contrast, Brazil’s has fallen from 0.55 in 2009 to 0.53 in 2013. For all of those who expected great progress since 1994, the slow pace of change has been bitterly disappointing.

After the political stalemate of the late 1980s, the ANC made a bargain with the then ruling National Party: it would take power and focus on post-apartheid reconciliation, while committing to economic policies that would disavow the appropriation of land and economic assets from the country’s white elite. In short, the ANC chose political power and social reconciliation over economic restitution and the redistribution of wealth.

The concessions hobbled the party during the critical years immediately following the end of apartheid, when economic restructuring could have had great impact. Apartheid policies had stripped the country of its natural wealth and impoverished its people, and the state had developed the capacity to provide services to only a small portion of the population. The government had pushed responsibility for the black majority to the Bantustans, self-governing territories that the architects of apartheid had established to house the country’s “African” populations. After the transition, the state had to expand its scope to include the millions it had previously excluded. 
One issue in this protest was continuing anti-black racism.
Yet political freedom did not lead to economic prosperity for the vast majority of South Africans. The ANC had not anticipated how much globalization had constrained the ability of the state to foster economic redistribution. What’s more, the ANC discovered that the state it had inherited lacked the resources to deliver on its 1994 campaign promise, “A Better Life for All.” The dual costs of maintaining the security apparatus and unequal welfare system necessary to sustain the apartheid state had drained the state’s coffers. The ANC had initially adopted a moderately redistributive economic program (the Reconstruction and Development Program), but in mid-1996 it replaced this with Growth, Employment and Redistribution, which was modeled on the structural adjustment programs that the World Bank promoted in the 1980s. Many South Africans who had been deprived of basic services under apartheid continue to lack housing, electricity, water, and sanitation.

For over two decades, these tensions have remained unresolved, and the weight of South Africa’s economic troubles is now beginning to crush ordinary people. Rising costs of living have stressed the majority to the breaking point. The price of petrol has been steadily increasing since 2010, when inflation was just over 3%; by 2013, petrol inflation had reached 5.5%. Combined with slow economic growth and the steady depreciation of the rand, the prices of all other domestic consumables have increased sharply. For example, although food prices dropped 18.5% worldwide in 2015, in South Africa they increased 5%; the South African Reserve Bank projects that the food inflation rate will grow to 11% by the end of 2016. A severe drought has exacerbated these trends. Excessive debt, unemployment, and grinding poverty have pushed many to a point where they are prepared to risk political action on a scale unseen since the struggle era.
Workers and youth have formed the vanguard of the protests. Their joint awakening is especially important. Since 1994, the labor unions have been politically passive. Under the Tripartite Alliance between the ANC, the South African Communist Party, and the largest of the labor union federations, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the labor unions accepted compromised progress on workers’ issues in exchange for a seat at the political table. For the last 20 years, this calmed their leftist politics and their criticism of the ANC’s largely centrist policies. After South African security forces massacred 34 protesting workers at the Marikana platinum mine in August 2012, however, many unionists are no longer content with the compromise. COSATU has begun to fracture, the formation of a new labor federation is in the cards, elements of the ANC are breaking ranks, and the breakaway Economic Freedom Fighters, led by the charismatic former ANC member Julius Malema, has provided a focal point for the passions of the masses.

But the most recent wave of protests has come from young people. The “born free” generation has finally awoken, driven out of their political quiescence by the continuing contradictions of political power without economic change and by anger at the high costs of education and the lack of reform in the nation’s universities. In March 2015, college students began widespread, increasingly violent demonstrations that reached their height when they disrupted exam periods on multiple campuses in December. Although the student protests were sparked by opposition to the apartheid-era iconography prominent in the nation’s institutions of higher education, they had their roots in the same deeper issues that drove the workers’ protests. The apartheid-era memorials crystallized the students’ feelings of marginalization and exclusion, but the protests rapidly broadened — soon, the students were angrily criticizing the ANC. On many college campuses, the students allied with the unions.
Students deface statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
The ANC faces a crisis of legitimacy as it attempts to manage the protests. First, the ANC’s own policies and compromises are largely responsible for the deeper anger that motivates the protesters, and many young South Africans think that the ANC betrayed them during the transition. Second, under Zuma’s leadership, a culture of impunity has taken root at the highest levels. Zuma became head of state while already mired in controversy over rape and corruption charges. Under his leadership, the ANC has come to mimic the excesses of similar political parties across the continent: lavish salaries for public officials, political appointees that sap the credibility and effectiveness of state institutions, and ongoing corruption scandals.

Many South Africans believe that a corrupt alliance of business and political elites has captured the state. They accuse elements of this elite — and especially the Gupta family, Indian immigrants to South Africa who have built a vast business empire — of exerting undue influence over political decisions. In December, Zuma provoked widespread criticism when he fired the widely trusted Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who had attempted to rein in government spending. The markets reacted negatively: 500 billion rand (more than $33 billion) disappeared from South Africa’s equity markets overnight.

There is still a way out of this morass. Although some state institutions have been hollowed out, others remain robust. For one, the Office of the Public Protector, led by Thuli Madonsela, has consistently sought to rein in the ANC’s excesses. It was Madonsela who commissioned the report on the upgrade to Zuma’s private home at Nkandla, which prompted the court case launched by the country’s largest opposition parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance. What happens next will set the tone.

Zuma issued a public apology for the “frustration and confusion” around Nkandla, while sidestepping the court’s finding that in violating the constitution, he has proven himself unfit for office. Not only have many senior ANC officials and past party leaders publicly criticized Zuma, they have also supported calls by civil society and the opposition for his resignation. And public opinion has turned against the party: in November 2015, Afrobarometer polling revealed that public distrust of the president, disapproval of the president’s performance, and perceived corruption in the president’s office had reached the highest levels since 2000 (66%, 62%, and 46%, respectively).

South Africa is now at a crossroads. It remains to be seen whether recent developments offer the promise of improvement or the threat of worsening state corruption, economic malaise, and violent protest. Municipal elections later this year and the general election in 2019 will test whether popular pressure and dissatisfaction among the elites can open the ANC. Regeneration may come from within the ANC itself, because many members would prefer to transform their party rather than reject it outright. They want the party to reconnect with its members, restore its tradition of internal democracy, and take more seriously the concerns of all its constituents. And they call for a return to the selfless leadership of the ANC’s founding members. If the protests can move beyond violence to sustained mobilization and the internal renewal of the ANC, South Africa may finally see lasting positive change.

— From the Foreign Affairs blog May 12. Cherrel Africa is an Associate Professor and Deputy Dean of Teaching and Learning in the Economic and Management Sciences Faculty at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. Jessica Piombo is an Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. All opinions are the authors’ own and do not reflect official positions or statements of the U.S. government


[Tens of millions of American jobs will be lost in a few decades due to high technology robots, such as this versatile, hard working bipedal humanoid  product from Boston Dynamics (above). There is no serious national plan about how all these redundant workers will survive. This article is not about robots, but about the negative byproducts of many technological advances that enter social usage in the U.S. with rare concern or preparation for the harmful side affects.

[The humanist assumption in this essay is one of extreme importance to today's world: "Scientific principles and the tools they generate aren't necessarily liberating. They’re not inherently destructive, either. What matters is how they’re put to use, for which values and in whose interest they're pressed into service."  This applies to everything from guns to Facebook and pain killer opioids; from iPhones to artificial intelligence, biotechnology, genetic engineering and so on. The author, Ian Beacock, is an intellectual and cultural historian of modern Europe at Stanford University in California. The current dictionary definition of humanism is a system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.]

By Ian Beacock

Arnold Toynbee. 
He was an expert in world civilizations who made the cover of Time magazine in 1947, praised for writing "the most provocative work of historical theory… since Karl Marx’s Capital." But in September 1921, long before he was the most famous historian in the world, a young Englishman named Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) boarded the Orient Express in Constantinople, bound for London. Fresh from a nine-month posting as a war correspondent for The Manchester Guardian, Toynbee scribbled down reflections about the shadow side of progress in his notebook, while the Balkans passed silently outside his window. Modern technology had changed the world for the better, he observed, but it could also wreak great havoc; there was always the risk that the machine may run away with the pilot." Human mastery of nature came at a price: in 1921, Europe’s battlefields were still cooling from the heat of industrial warfare and the blood of millions dead. They whispered the terms of this Faustian bargain to anyone who would listen. In the roaring 1920s, not many people were listening.

Europeans wanted better lives and they were certain that scientific progress would provide them. After the devastation of the Great War, rationalization ruled from London to Moscow: empirical methods and new technologies were adopted to streamline everything from cityscapes to national populations, intellectual work to household chores. Many administrators and activists believed that there was no problem (material, institutional or social) that couldn’t be engineered away.

Sound familiar? Our times are confident, too. We’re optimistic that scientific thinking can explain the world, certain that the solutions to most of our problems are a quick technological fix away. We’ve begun to treat vexing social and political dilemmas as simple design flaws, mistakes to be rectified through a technocratic combination of data science and gadgetry. Progress is no longer a dirty word. The most influential prophets of this creed are in Silicon Valley in California, where, to the tune of billions of dollars, the tech industry tells a Whiggish tale about the digital ascent of humanity: from our benighted times, we’ll emerge into a brighter future, a happier and more open society in which everything has been measured and engineered into a state of perfect efficiency.

And we’re buying it. We’re eager to optimize our workouts, our sleep patterns, our pregnancies, our policing tactics, our taxi services, and our airline pilots. Even the academy is intrigued. From spatial history to the neurohumanities, digital methods are the rage. Lecture halls have been targeted for disruption by massive open online courses (MOOCs). Sometimes it seems as though there’s little that can’t be explained by scientific thinking or improved upon through digital innovation.

What are the humanities for at such moments, when we’re so sure of ourselves and our capacity to remake the world? Toynbee wrestled with this question for decades. He was as curious as anyone about the latest discoveries and innovations, but he rejected the notion that science could explain or improve everything. And his thoughtful criticism of technology reminds us that poets and historians, artists and scholars must be proud, vocal champions of the humanities as a moral project – especially at moments of breakneck scientific progress. Fluent in the language of crisis and decline, casting about for ways to defend ourselves, today’s humanists could use a little inspiration. We need our spines stiffened. Toynbee might be a man to do it.

Yet Arnold Toynbee is about as out of fashion as possible. Briefly beloved by the press, he was scorned by his academic peers. Herculean but strewn with errors, his 12-volume account of the rise and fall of world civilizations, A Study of History (1934-61), collects dust on library shelves. But Toynbee confronted his world in admirable and inspiring fashion, a model humanist for technological times....
Opioids reduced pain.
That world [the first decades of the 1900s] was moving forward at unprecedented speed. There was hardly enough time to figure out the latest invention before the next one arrived: the telephone, the wireless telegraph, electric trams, subways, massive ocean liners, airplanes, radio, the movies. In the 1920s, Europeans were more astonished by mechanization than anything else; the factory had become both dazzling idol and master metaphor. Fordism and Taylorism (also known as "scientific management") applied the logic of mass production to human beings, calibrating people like cogs in a machine.

Toynbee looked at this popular amalgamation of scientific principles and mechanical processes and gave it a name: the Industrial System, a term he used throughout the first volume of his A Study of History (1934). It was a perfectly fine approach, he thought, with real explanatory power and impressive achievements. But he bristled at the notion that it could do or explain everything. The problem with the Industrial System was that it didn’t know when to stop, pushing relentlessly into domains where it simply didn’t work....

Toynbee’s criticism was anthropological more than anything; a nimble skewering of the grand analogy nestled at the heart of the Industrial System. Human beings were not machines, he insisted. Minds were not factories. "In the world of action," he wrote in volume one of A Study of History, "we know that it is disastrous to treat animals or human beings as though they were stocks and stones. Why should we suppose this treatment to be any less mistaken in the world of ideas?" It was a deeply Romantic response to modern life: the conviction that what was most essential couldn’t be quantified or measured, that technology risked cleansing the universe of its poetry and meaning. The Industrial System seemed so powerful only because it had shrunk the world, congratulating itself on being able to know and control the fragment that remained. As the American poet Jack Gilbert would put it in "Winter Happiness in Greece" (2009): "The world is beyond us even as we own it."

"The historical-minded student of human affairs and his scientific-minded confrère are really indispensable to one other as partners in their arduous common undertaking," Toynbee insisted in 1961. He was no Luddite. And like the scientists and industrial titans of his age, he thought it was a worthy goal to try and explain everything. But Toynbee’s was a mosaic universe, variegated and collaborative. Grasping the whole would require every way of thinking that human beings could bring to bear. "One must be free to resort to the different methods of the poet, the historian, and the scientist in turn," he argued. Today, we could do worse than emulate Toynbee’s genuine and self-reflective brand of intellectual pluralism: "No tool is omnicompetent. There is no such thing as a master-key that will unlock all doors.’

Intellectual pluralism is important. It’s also pretty unobjectionable as far as banners go, easy to gather a crowd behind. Academics reminding one another to let a hundred flowers bloom are a little bit like politicians calling for a renewed spirit of bipartisanship: not wrong, but really asking only for the lowest common denominator of critical engagement. Toynbee called for harmony, but he was never one to settle on such safe ground, rather continuing onto more challenging terrain. He dares humanists to imagine a more muscular role for themselves as engaged critics and moral thinkers.

We forget sometimes (or are uncomfortable in saying) that the humanities are at root about questions of value: what it means to lead a good life or how to build a just society. Toynbee never forgot. Articulate and combative, he understood that humanistic inquiry is a moral enterprise, an unfinished project of exploration and improvement. And he knew that humanists must be crusaders, that their strength lies in their capacity (and willingness) to confront members of the public with hard questions about themselves.
Could there be a downside to these great little gadgets?
Today, technology cries out for robust criticism. As Toynbee recognized, scientific principles and technical innovations might help us build a better railway, a faster locomotive – but they aren’t very good at telling us who can buy tickets, what direction we should lay the track, or whether we should be taking the train at all. "Man," he wrote in Civilization on Trial (1948), "cannot live by technology alone." Humanists have a professional responsibility to challenge public faith in scientific progress and technological whizzbangery, to question how the future is to be conducted and to whose benefit. It’s our job to make sure that the machine doesn’t run away with the pilot.

There’s no shortage of writing about Silicon Valley, no lack of commentary about how smartphones and algorithms are remaking our lives. The splashiest salvos have come from distinguished humanists. In The New York Times Book Review, Leon Wieseltier acidly indicted the culture of technology for flattening the capacious human subject into a few lines of computer code. Rebecca Solnit, in the London Review of Books, rejects the digital life as one of distraction, while angrily documenting the destruction of bohemian San Francisco at the hands of hoodied young software engineers who ride to work aboard luxury buses like "alien overlords."  Certainly there’s reason to be outraged: much good is being lost in our rush to optimization. Yet it’s hard not to think that we’ve been so distracted by such totems as the Google Bus that we’re failing to ask the most interesting, constructive, radical questions about our digital times. Technology isn’t going anywhere. The real issue is what to do with it.

Scientific principles and the tools they generate aren’t necessarily liberating. They’re not inherently destructive, either. What matters is how they’re put to use, for which values and in whose interest they’re pressed into service. Silicon Valley’s most successful companies often present their services as value-free: Google just wants to make the world’s information transparent and accessible; Facebook humbly offers us greater connectivity with the people we care about; Lyft and Airbnb extol the virtues of sharing among friends, new and old. If there are values here, they seem to be fairly innocuous ones. How could you possibly oppose making new friends or learning new things?

Yet each of these high-tech services is motivated by a vision of the world as it ought to be, an influential set of assumptions about how we should live together, what we owe one another as neighbors and citizens, the relationship between community and individual, the boundary between public good and private interest. Technology comes, in other words, with political baggage. We need critics who can pull back the curtain, who can scrutinize digital technology without either antipathy or boosterism, who can imagine how it might be used differently. We need critics who can ask questions of value.

Our society isn’t very good at asking these kinds of questions. Since the 1970s, the free market has slowly become our master metaphor. Its benchmarks of efficiency and profit have become ours. Our capacity to respond to the world and engage with one another as citizens have eroded, and instead we’ve become consumers in all things, rational actors seeking competitive advantage. To borrow a phrase from the essay The World We Have Lost (2008) by the late British historian Tony Judt: "We have forgotten how to think politically." (Say what you will about the men and women of Toynbee’s generation: from far left to extreme right, they certainly had political imagination.) And so while the issues we confront would have been familiar to Toynbee – surging confidence in scientific thinking and technological wizardry – our challenge is in many ways much greater. For we’ve forgotten how to speak the language of value, how to think beyond the market.

Washington is spending billions to develop an advanced
Stealth bomber. The Wright Brothers had no idea about how
their great invention would be used. Perhaps
they should have thought twice.
Humanists are well-equipped to offer this kind of criticism and we should do so aggressively. The language of value is our mother tongue, after all. Freedom and justice, privacy and the self, right and wrong – these are complex and contested humanistic concepts, not economic or technological ones. What’s more, reimagining the humanities, as a robust moral enterprise is the most compelling case we have for their continued relevance in a digital age.

The longer the humanities are roiled by crisis, the more arguments are mooted in their defense. Most of them aren’t getting us very far. They’re technical and small. We tell wary undergraduates that it’s possible to land a job with a literature degree, that in their courses on modernism and Jane Austen they will learn precisely the kind of writing and communication skills employers want. Most of all, we remind students, administrators and legislators that the humanities teach "critical thinking," a term used so frequently and automatically that it has lost whatever charge it once possessed. Not one of these arguments really captures what the humanities are all about. They fail to seize the imagination. And so the crisis continues.

It’s time for humanists to walk out on a limb. Like Toynbee, we should be as engaged in the world as we are courageous in our convictions. The humanities are most of all a moral enterprise, the pursuit of answers to big questions about how we live together and where we’re going. The stakes are high. We must remember how to speak the language of value, encouraging our readers and students to ask not simply "Is it more efficient?" or "How much does it cost?" but "Is it good or bad? For whom? According to which standard?"

The U.S. novelist Ursula K. Le Guin put it well in her speech at the National Book Awards in New York last year when she observed that we need "the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being." This is what the humanities are for – not writing better quarterly reports or grabbing a gig in corporate communications – but for posing fundamental questions of value and helping us imagine alternatives to the way we live.

A curious but trenchant critic of science and technology as well as a determined moral thinker, Toynbee can help light the way through the woods for despairing humanists. Neglected and overlooked, he offers a persuasive answer to one of our most troubling questions. What are the humanities for in a technological age? For Toynbee, the answer was clear: to save us from ourselves.



 A Syrian woman cooks at the northern Greek town of Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia. About 10,000 refugees are stranded in this camp. 
(Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP.)
By Kara Moses

Almost one month after the signing of the EU-Turkey deal, the situation across Greece remains chaotic and inhumane. In improvised camps and detention centers across the country, over 50,000 people are stranded in appalling conditions. In what is becoming unbearable heat, many are unable to access the asylum system and are rapidly losing hope that they will be able to join their relatives or find places to live in peace.
In Idomeni, Greece, following the closure of the Balkans route to Europe, thousands are stranded and vulnerable to violence at the hands of the border police or smugglers. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have treated babies as young as six weeks old for exposure to tear gas and 10-year-old children for rubber bullet wounds. MSF teams also deal with the health consequences of long term settlement in a camp that does not provide adequate shelter, health services, or sanitation.
MSF is also collaborating with Greek authorities to conduct an immunization campaign to protect children in the camp from vaccine-preventable diseases.
The situation is no better in Athens, where, in spite of the relief provided by volunteers and local charities, basic living conditions for refugees are not being met. Feelings of helplessness and frustration add to the tension between refugees who feel that their cases are categorized arbitrarily according to their nationalities. "Disputes between Syrians and Afghans break out every night," explains Mohammad, a Syrian refugee from Latakia who arrived at the port mid-March. "The decision to accept Syrians and Iraqis as refugees but not Afghans is not fair at all, because many Afghans’ suffering was even worse than the Syrians. That’s what make Afghans angry with the Syrians."

— From Doctors Without Borders, May 13.


By Lund University, 4-26-16

A study led by researchers at Lund University in Sweden shows that ravens are as clever as chimpanzees, despite having much smaller brains, indicating that rather than the size of the brain, the neuronal density and the structure of the birds’ brains play an important role in terms of their intelligence.

“Absolute brain size is not the whole story. We found that corvid birds [the crow family] performed as well as great apes, despite having much smaller brains”, says Can Kabadayi, doctoral student in Cognitive Science.

Intelligence is difficult to test, but one aspect of being clever is inhibitory control, and the ability to override animal impulses and choose a more rational behavior. Researchers at Duke University conducted a large-scale study in 2014, where they compared the inhibitory control of 36 different animal species, mainly primates and apes. The team used the established cylinder test, where food is placed in a transparent tube with openings on both sides. The challenge for the animal is to retrieve the food using the side openings, instead of trying to reach for it directly. To succeed, the animal has to show constraint and choose a more efficient strategy for obtaining the food.

The large-scale study concluded that great apes performed the best, and that absolute brain size appeared to be key when it comes to intelligence. However, they didn’t conduct the cylinder test on corvid birds.

Kabadayi, together with researchers from the University of Oxford (UK) and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, therefore had ravens, jackdaws and New Caledonian crows perform the same cylinder test to better understand their inhibitory control.

The team first trained the birds to obtain a treat in an opaque tube with a hole at each end. Then they repeated the test with a transparent tube. The animal impulse would naturally be to go straight for the tube as they saw the food. However, all of the ravens chose to enter the tube from the ends in every try. The performance of the jackdaws and the crows came very close to 100%, comparable to a performance by bonobos and gorillas.

“This shows that bird brains are quite efficient, despite having a smaller absolute brain size. As indicated by the study, there might be other factors apart from absolute brain size that are important for intelligence, such as neuronal density”, says Can Kabadayi, and continues:

“There is still so much we need to understand and learn about the relationship between intelligence and brain size, as well as the structure of a bird’s brain, but this study clearly shows that bird brains are not simply birdbrains after all!”

— A 2 minute  video with Can Kabadayi and ravens is at