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First Artificial Burger Gets Tepid Reviews, Billionaire Financier Unmasked | Science | AAAS

“”Close to meat. Not that juicy.” That was Austrian food trend researcher Hanni Rützler’s verdict on the world’s first lab-grown beef patty, presented here today at a tightly orchestrated and widely covered media event. Rützler was one of two people invited to taste the burger assembled from thousands of tiny strips of beef grown by Dutch researcher Mark Post at his lab at Maastricht University in the Netherlands; the other guinea pig was Chicago, Illinois-based author Josh Schonwald.

Rützler took a bite out of the patty that had been prepared live on stage by British chef Richard McGeown and carefully chewed on it. “The biggest surprise was the consistency,” she later toldScienceNOW. “It wasn’t as soft as I thought it would be. I was afraid it would fall apart.” Neither Schonwald nor Rützler was particularly excited about the taste of the historic snack, however—in part because it hadn’t been seasoned and contained no fat.

The rather slick media show had few new scientific details but focused on taste and ethical issues instead. Still, the event represented “a paradigm shift in the way animal protein can be produced,” says Nicholas Genovese, a visiting scholar at the University of Missouri, Columbia, who is doing in vitro meat research funded through a fellowship by animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Not since the domestication of livestock has a method been so revolutionary,” Genovese writes in an e-mail.

But the public at large seems divided: While many welcomed the presentation on the Internet today, others called the idea of lab-grown meat “disgusting” and “unnatural.”

Perhaps the most concrete news to come out of the event was the unmasking of the mysterious billionaire who financed the project to the tune of $375,000. He is Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who has an interest in environmental issues and who praised Post in a video message for thinking big. “There are basically three things that can happen going forward. One is that we all become vegetarian,” Brin said. “The second is we ignore the issue and that leads to continued environmental harm, and the third option is we do something new.”

The first burger was always intended as a proof-of-concept that would bring new funding to the field of in vitro meat research. On a stage reminiscent of a cooking show, journalist and presenter Nina Hossain interviewed Post and invited the tasters to join, while chef McGeown prepared the patty with some oil and butter. “It’s holding its form beautifully,” he assured Hossain at one point.

According to the press package, the starting material for the burger was biopsies from two cows raised on organic farms. Post later confirmed to ScienceNOW that the material was actually taken at a slaughterhouse. From this tissue, Post isolated satellite cells, adult stem cells needed to replace dead muscle cells. Antibiotics were used in the cell culture to prevent bacterial infections, Post confirmed, and the cells grew on a medium containing fetal bovine serum, which is made from the blood of slaughtered animals.

The idea is to eventually take the animal out of the equation. At the press conference, Post said that he had already tried 10 different mediums without fetal bovine serum. “Nine were not good; one was okay,” he said.

One innovation that Post hadn’t described earlier is a circular structure in the middle of the petri dish around which the cells grow. In earlier attempts, Post had used two triangles of Velcro in the dish that muscle cells spontaneously attached to, but sometimes the fibers would pull themselves off the Velcro, he said. The circular structure made the cells attach to each other as they formed little rings, providing a more flexible attachment.

Thousands of these beef circles were then turned over to Peter Verstrate, a self-employed food technologist in the Netherlands. Verstrate cut the rings to produce little shreds of meat, about a centimeter long and a millimeter thick, which he ground up in a bowl. Breadcrumbs and some binder were added to improve the texture, he says.

The color was a problem: Because of a lack of myoglobin—an oxygen-binding protein in muscle fibers—the cultured meat looked white instead of red. Some colorants turned the meat red but were so stable that the cooked product looked raw, Verstrate says. In the end, the researchers settled on a mix of beetroot juice, saffron, and a little bit of caramel that made the raw burger look like a regular McDonald’s burger but turned it brown during cooking. “We didn’t add any taste,” Verstrate says.

Indeed, that was Rützler main’s gripe. “I’ve never eaten a patty without salt and pepper before,” she said. There is room for improvement here.” Schonwald, for his part, noted that the meat had a “familiar mouthfeel,” but said the taste wasn’t quite like a real burger, in part because of the absence of fat. Post said adding fat-producing cells is one of the many challenges that this field is still facing.

In the end, about half of the exclusive burger wasn’t actually eaten; Post said that his children might get to try the rest. He didn’t say whether they would be allowed to use seasoning.”

Source: First Artificial Burger Gets Tepid Reviews, Billionaire Financier Unmasked | Science | AAAS

Listo el acuerdo de paz con las Farc | ELESPECTADOR.COM

“Luego de seis días de acuartelamiento de las comisiones negociadoras del Gobierno y las Farc en La Habana (Cuba), las partes concluyeron la redacción de los acuerdos de paz. El documento será revisado por cada uno de los equipos y se hará público el miércoles en la noche.  (Lea aquí: Así será el proceso de concentración y dejación de armas de las Farc)

Todo indica que el llamado Día D, es decir,  el acto oficial de firma protocolaria de lo pactado, sería el 23 de septiembre, en un evento público cuya sede en el país aún no se ha definido y que, eso sí,  contará con la presencia de importantes personalidades internacionales, incluyendo los presidentes de los países garantes y facilitadores del proceso y de otros que han respaldado la paz de Colombia.

Los negociadores plenipotenciarios serán los encargados de firmar este acuerdo mañana, pero eso no significa la firma de la paz. Las Farc están preparando su décima y última conferencia en armas, y socializarán con las tropas la decisión de dejar las armas.   (Lea aquí: Las reglas de las zonas de concentración de las Farc)

Por su parte, el gobierno tiene que avanzar en la convocatoria del plebiscito con el que los ciudadanos refrendarán el acuerdo de paz de La Habana. En otras palabras, se trata del fin del proceso en Cuba para trasladarse ahora a Colombia, donde se debe  cumplir con la refrendación. Aunque es inminente el anuncio, desde el equipo de prensa del proceso de paz advirtieron que quedan algunos pequeños temas pendientes por resolver.

Aunque el Gobierno y las Farc ya han ido dando a conocer el contenido de los acuerdos, estaba pendiente que definieran lo referentes a la amnistía lo más amplia posible para los miembros de la guerrilla que dejen las armas, que sería la primera ley que se radicaría en el Congreso tramitada con el mecanismo especial para la paz.

Además tendrá que hacerse público el mecanismo con el cual se garantizará la presencia de las Farc o el movimiento que conformen en la arena política del Congreso. Se habla de asignación directa de curules o circunscripciones especiales.  (Lea aquí: Así es el cronograma y procedimiento de dejación de armas de las Farc)

Aunque esta es la noticia más importante para el país en décadas, no cayó bien entre representantes de los indígenas que aseguran que no fue incluido un capítulo ético en los acuerdos y se declararon en asamblea permanente.

: Pueblos Indígenas nos declaramos en Asamblea Permanente por exclusión de .@EquipoPazGob @FARC_EPaz.

Precisamente, otro de los asuntos pendientes por definir todavía en La Habana es el de la participación de los pueblos negros e indígenas en la implementación de los acuerdos y en el proceso de socialización de lo pactado de cara al plebiscito. Por eso, seis delegados de la Comisión Étnica para la Paz viajaron a Cuba para reunirse hoy con los delegados de la mesa.

Sin embargo, antes de viajar, los líderes étnicos expresaron su preocupación por los afanes con que son consultados. “La historia no entendería que el Gobierno no haya tomado a tiempo las medidas para facilitar la participación de nuestros pueblos a pesar de nuestras demandas, las violaciones desproporcionadas de que hemos y seguimos siendo víctimas, los llamados de la comunidad internacional, las conclusiones de la propia mesa de negociación y la larga historia de exclusión y de racismo a que nuestros pueblos han sido sometidos”, se lee en un comunicado de la Comisión.

¿Qué viene después del Día D?

El proceso de dejación de armas por parte de las Farc será paulatino, pero no podrá durar más de 6 meses. Así lo acordaron Gobierno y guerrilla el pasado 23 de junio.  Cinco días después de la firma, las unidades guerrilleras deben comenzar a desplazarse, junto a sus armas de acompañamiento, hacia las zonas veredales. Antes deberán entregar los cilindros, tatucos y demás armas artesanales o hechizas, consideradas inestables, para que personal de Naciones Unidas lo destruya.

Los miembros de la misión de Naciones Unidas empezarán a recoger las armas, 60 días después del comienzo de las zonas, para almacenarlas en unos contenedores. Al terminar la zona veredal, a los 180 días, las armas serán dispuestas para elaborar tres monumentos que estarán en Bogotá, Cuba y la sede de Naciones Unidas en Nueva York.”

Source: Listo el acuerdo de paz con las Farc | ELESPECTADOR.COM

El pueblo en el que la sonrisa no significa alegría | Ciencia | EL PAÍS

“El libro La vida sexual de los salvajes del noroeste de la Melanesia, publicado en 1929 por el antropólogo austrohúngaro Bronisław Malinowski, describe una insólita costumbre que el autor solo conocía de oídas. Las mujeres de un puñado de aldeas de una isla tenían derecho, cuando estaban quitando las malas hierbas de las huertas, a asaltar a los hombres de otros poblados que se pusieran al alcance de su vista. “El hombre se convierte entonces en juguete de las mujeres, que se entregan con él a toda clase de violencias sexuales y crueldades obscenas, cubriéndole de inmundicias y maltratándole de mil maneras”,explicaba Malinowski.

El antropólogo continuaba su relato sin escatimar detalles que, casi un siglo después, siguen siendo tabú. “Después de la primera eyaculación la víctima puede ser tratada de la misma manera por otra mujer. A menudo pasan cosas más repugnantes todavía. Algunas mujeres cubren el cuerpo del hombre con sus excrementos y orina, atacando con preferencia el rostro, que mancillan cuanto pueden”. El libro de Malinowski dibujaba las islas Trobriand (Papúa Nueva Guinea) como un paraíso con una relativa libertad sexual, que a lo largo del siglo XX fue exagerada por publicaciones como Playboy y National Geographic, convirtiendo al archipiélago en “las Islas del Amor”.

Pero no lo son. “Va a ser que no. Hay sexo oficial y oficioso, como en todas partes, y a veces es más visible porque son comunidades pequeñas”, resume el psicólogo español José Miguel Fernández Dols. El equipo de este experto de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid acaba de observar en las islas Trobriand algo que puede ser más importante que la promiscuidad. En algunas de sus aldeas, la sonrisa no se asocia a la alegría. “La interpretan como una invitación social, como la magia de la atracción”, explica.

El descubrimiento es mayúsculo en su campo. La comunidad científica cree actualmente que las expresiones faciales de las emociones no están determinadas por la cultura, sino que tienen un origen biológico y son universales. El padre de esta teoría es el psicólogo estadounidense Paul Ekman, asesor científico de la película Inside Out (titulada Del revés en España e Intensa Mente en Latinoamérica). El filme de Disney resume bien la llamada Tesis de la Universalidad, con cinco emociones cuyos gestos serían reconocibles por cualquiera de los 7.400 millones de habitantes de la Tierra: alegría, tristeza, enfado, miedo y asco.

Fernández Dols no está de acuerdo. Su equipo ha estudiado las caras de decenas de deportistas olímpicos recibiendo la medalla de oro, de un centenar de personas teniendo un orgasmo, de 174 luchadores de judo ganando sus peleas, de aficionados al fútbol de celebración y hasta de 22 toreros en plena faena. Y su conclusión es que las expresiones faciales, como la sonrisa, son herramientas para la interacción social, más que una representación de una emoción básica interna.

“La industria de la felicidad mueve millones de euros y parte de que la sonrisa está detrás de la felicidad”, afirma Fernández Dols, en referencia a la maquinaria internacional de cursos, libros de autoayuda y otras formas de charlatanería. “Las expresiones faciales son estrategias interactivas. Los niños, cuando se caen, solo lloran cuando ven a su madre”, sostiene el psicólogo.

Las islas Trobriand son un archipiélago de atolones de coral sin electricidad ni agua corriente. Sus habitantes viven de la pesca y una rudimentaria agricultura. El psicólogo Carlos Crivelli, colega de Fernández Dols, y el antropólogo Sergio Jarillo, del Museo de Historia Natural de Nueva York, mostraron a 68 niños y adolescentes de las islas seis fotografías con las expresiones faciales prototípicas de alegría, tristeza, enfado, miedo y asco, más un rostro neutro. Hicieron lo mismo con 113 chavales de Madrid.

En Trobriand, solo el 58% de los chicos asoció la sonrisa a la alegría. El 46%acertó con la tristeza. El 31%, con el miedo. El 25%, con el asco. Y solo el 7% vinculó un rostro ceñudo al enfado. En Matemo, una isla perdida de Mozambique, los investigadores obtuvieron resultados similares. En Madrid, la inmensa mayoría de los participantes agrupó todas las emociones básicas con sus supuestas expresiones faciales universales. Las conclusiones del estudio se han publicado en la revista JEP: General, de la Asociación Estadounidense de Psicología.

“El concepto de emoción básica es popular, pero no necesariamente científico”, opina Fernández Dols. El psicólogo recuerda que un reciente libro, The Book of Human Emotions, de la historiadora británica Tiffany Watt Smith, describe 156 emociones diferentes, como el awumbuk, una palabra de la cultura Baining de Papúa Nueva Guinea que se refiere a la sensación de vacío que dejan los invitados al irse. “En psicología empleamos el vocabulario de la calle. Es como si en física utilizaran palabras de la calle para estudiar la mecánica newtoniana. La gente quiere Inside Out, pero la realidad, a lo mejor, es otra”.”

Source: El pueblo en el que la sonrisa no significa alegría | Ciencia | EL PAÍS

El libro rojo de Uribe | ELESPECTADOR.COM

“La situación se dio el martes pasado, en medio del debate que pretendía ser de control político a la Ministra de Educación, pero que en realidad era la muestra de los dos modelos de país que están en pugna. Uno en el que el que se materializa la Constitución de 1991, como lo advirtió Claudia López en su intervención y otro en el que las mayorías defenderán la moral del país, sobre la ideología de género, como amenazó Vivian Morales. Este debate no es menor, pues tal como lo advirtiera en 1859 Jhon Stuart Mill, es sobre la libertad individual y el peligro que representa para una sociedad la tiranía de las mayorías.

Sin embargo, la interpretación más descabellada fue la que hizo Uribe, que de manera irresponsable pretendió relacionar el contenido de las cartillas con el proceso de paz con las FARC. Dijo el expresidente: “nosotros no estamos de acuerdo en que se negocie la política de género con las FARC”.

De manera ligera, el expresidente insinuó que las cartillas hacen parte de una conspiración comunista gestada desde el Ministerio de Educación, citó a Hegel, a Engels y por último a “Gramsqui (sic), el comunista italiano, quien llama a lumpenizar la sociedad para crear la sociedad comunista y desde ahí destruir la familia”. Uribe, como si la Guerra Fría no hubiera terminado en Colombia, convirtió el tema de las cartillas en una estrategia para “demostrar” que el gobierno de Santos estaba entregando no solo el país a las FARC, sino también la formación y la moral de los niños a esta organización comunista.

Podría parecer sutil la situación, pero en un país tan emocionalmente católico como el colombiano, la combinación de moral y política es una peligrosa mezcla, pues deja claro que la campaña contra el proceso de paz se disputará ahora en el terreno religioso. Así, no solo se corre el riesgo de eternizar la guerra, sino de paso negar el goce efectivo de los derechos y la igualdad que al día de hoy han logrado miles de ciudadanos en el país.

Si la preocupación por el bienestar de los niños fuera sincera por parte del expresidente, les permitiría crecer en un país en el que la guerra no es una opción, un futuro en el que no serán reclutados por los grupos armados ilegales u obligados a prestar servicio militar.

Pero no, al expresidente no le interesan los niños, como tampoco le importa el país. Seguirá leyendo su pequeño libro rojo y al igual que el pequeño libro rojo de Mao Tse-tung, se imprimirá masivamente para adoctrinar al pueblo colombiano. Así, en las próximas marchas de odio veremos a miles de feligreses alzando sus libritos, ondeándolos de cara al sol como en las mejores dictaduras. Será, como en la Gran Revolución Cultural China, la justificación para imponer las creencias de las mayorías, sobre los derechos de las minorías.”

Source: El libro rojo de Uribe | ELESPECTADOR.COM

You Don’t Own That! The Evolution of Property – Evonomics

“In a recent post on the “evolution of money,” which concentrated heavily on the idea of (balance-sheet) assets, I promised to come back to the fundamental idea behind “assets”: ownership. Herewith, fulfilling that promise.

There are a large handful of things that make humans uniquely different from animals. In many other areas — language, abstract reasoning, music-making, conceptions of self and fairness, large-scale cooperation, etc. — humans and animals vary (hugely) in degree and kind. But they still share those phenotypic behavioral traits.

I’d like to explore one of those unique differences: ownership of property. Animals don’t own property. Ever. They can and do possess and control goods and territories (possession and control are importantly distinct), but they never “own” things. Ownership is a uniquely human construct.

To understand this, imagine a group of tribes living around a common water source. A spring, say. There’s ample water for all the tribes, and all draw from it freely. Nobody “owns” it. Then one day a tribe decides to take possession of the spring, take control of it. They set up camp surrounding it, and prevent other tribes from accessing it. They force the other tribes to give them goods, labor, or other concessions in return for access to water.

The other tribes might object, but if the controlling tribe can enforce their claim, there’s not much the other tribes can do about it. And after some time, maybe some generations, the other tribes may come to accept that status quo as the natural order of things. By eventual consensus (however vexed), that one tribe “owns” the spring. Other tribes even come to honor and respect that ownership, and those who claim and enforce it.

That consensus and agreement is what makes ownership ownership. Absent that, it’s just possession and control.

It’s not hard to see the crucial fact in this little fable: property rights are ultimately based, purely, on coercion and violence. If the controlling tribe can’t enforce its claim through violence, their “ownership” is meaningless. And those claimed rights are not just inclusionary (the one tribe can use the water). Property rights are primarily or even purely exclusionary. Owners can prevent others from doing anything with the owners’ property. Get off my lawn!

When push comes to shove (literally), when brass tacks meet the rubber on the road (sorry, couldn’t resist), ownership and property rights are based purely on violence and the threat of violence. Full stop, drop the mic.

In the modern world we’ve largely outsourced the execution of that violence, the monopoly on violence, to government. If a family sets up a picnic on “your” lawn, you can call the police and they’ll remove that family — by force if necessary. And we’ve multiplied the institutional and legal mechanics and machinery of ownership a zillionfold. The whole world’s financial machinery — the immensely complex web of claims, claims on claims, and claims on claims on claims, endlessly and densely iterated and interwoven — all comes down to (the threat of) physical force.

There are obviously many understandings and implications to this reality (e.g. Where did your ownership claim originate? Who got excluded, originally?), which I’ll leave to my gentle readers. But I’d like to close the loop on the comparatively rather desiccated ideas of balance-sheet assets, and money, explored in my previous post.

When the one tribe takes control of the spring, they add that spring as an asset on lefthand side of their (implicit) balance sheet. Voila, they’ve got net worth on the righthand side! In standard modern terminology, the spring is a “real” asset — a direct claim on a real good, as opposed to a financial asset, which (by definition) has an offsetting liability on some other balance sheet — is a claim on that other balance sheet’s assets, is a “claim on claims.” The tribe’s asset — its claim to the spring and the output from the spring (capitalized using some arbitrary discount rate) — has no offsetting liability on other balance sheets. It’s a purely inclusionary claim. Right?

Wrong. It’s an exclusionary claim. Which means there is a liability, or negative net worth, on others’ balance sheet(s) — at least compared to a counterfactual fable in which all the tribes have free access to the spring. “Real” assets — balance-sheet entries representing direct claims on real goods (even your claim to the apple sitting on your kitchen counter) — have offsetting entries on the righthand side of the “everyone else” or “world” balance sheet. A truly comprehensive and coherent accounting would require first assembling such a pre-human or pan-human world balance sheet. Practically, that’s utterly quixotic. Conceptually, it’s utterly essential.

So while the distinction between real and financial assets can have conceptual and analytic value, it’s important to realize that the claims behind real and financial assets are far more similar than they are different. A deed to land — the legal instrument encoding an exclusionary claim — is quite reasonably viewed as a financial asset. There is an offsetting balance-sheet entry elsewhere, if only implicit. Donald Trump certainly views the deeds he “owns” as financial instruments, fundamentally similar to his stocks and bonds. Just: the legal terms of those financial instruments — the inclusionary and exclusionary rights they impart — vary in myriad ways. (Aside: economists really need a biology-like taxonomy of financial instruments, categorized across multiple dimensions. Where’s our Linnaeus?)

Balance sheets, accounting, and their associated concepts (assets, liabilities, net worth, equity and equity shares) are the technology humans have developed to manage, control, and allocate our (violence-enforced) ownership claims, a crucial portion of our social relationships. At first the balance sheets were only implicit — when the tribe first laid claim to the spring. But humans started writing them down and formalizing them, tallying those ownership and obligation relationships, thousands or tens of thousands of years ago. (Coins weren’t invented till about 800 BC.)

When some clever talliers started using arbitrary units of account to tally the value of diverse “assets,” and those units were adopted by consensus, we got another invention: the thing we call money. Like ownership rights, the unit of account’s value is maintained by consensus and common usage among owners and owers. But like ownership, its value is ultimately enforced by…force.

Balance sheets. All is balance sheets…

</DryAndDweebyAccountingSpeak>

I find it distressing that this kind of deep and fundamentally necessary thinking about ownership and property rights is absent from introductory (and ensuing) economics courses — both textbooks and coursework. Likewise concepts like value, utility (carefully interrogated), and yes: money (ditto). I don’t think you can think coherently about economics if you haven’t carefully considered these issues and ideas. It’s that kind of deep and broad, ultimately philosophical, thinking, in the context of a broadly-based liberal-arts education, that makes American universities — somewhat surprisingly to me — the envy of the world.

Before leaving, I have to give full props here to Matt Bruenig, who delivered this clear and coherent Aha! understanding of ownership for me after I’d struggled with it for decades. It seems so simple and obvious now; others have certainly explained it before. I feel like a dullard for taking so long.”

Source: You Don’t Own That! The Evolution of Property – Evonomics

Un resumen de los acuerdos de paz – Las2orillas

Este resumen de 15 páginas de los acuerdos de paz firmados entre el Gobierno de Colombia y las Farc-EP en La Habana no es gran cosa.

 Simplemente copiamos casi al pie de la letra los resúmenes de los acuerdos disponibles en varias secciones de la página web de la Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz (OACP), así como en la cartilla Entérese del Proceso de Paz.
 La razón por la cual desde el Grupo Regional de Memoria Histórica de la UTB decidimos armar un solo documento con los resúmenes de todos los acuerdos es que, primero, hasta el momento solo se puede acceder a ellos visitando una por una múltiples secciones de la página web de la OACP (lo cual puede ser dispendioso e incluso confuso para mucha gente).
 Segundo, porque —recorriendo la ciudad y el territorio en desarrollo de nuestros talleres de lectura deliberativa de los acuerdos de paz— nos dimos cuenta que el formato y los colores de las cartillas e infografías disponibles no se prestan muy bien para ser impresos en blanco y negro y fotocopiados, lo cual dificulta su lectura y difusión.

Dejamos así este resumen a disposición de todas las personas que quieran enterarse de lo que se ha firmado en La Habana, o que quieran usarlo para desarrollar lecturas y reflexiones colectivas que permitan difundir con mayor amplitud los acuerdos de paz, propiciando una reflexión pública de la calidad y la profundidad que este momento histórico nos exige —y nos exigirá— como ciudadanía.

Por supuesto, hay que tener en cuenta que este documento es un resumen de las casi 200 páginas que ya suman los acuerdos. Mi recomendación es que leamos todos los acuerdos en su integridad. Además, hay que tener en cuenta que este resumen está completamente basado en las síntesis de los acuerdos elaboradas por el Gobierno. Muy seguramente habrá quienes consideren que hay aspectos importantes de los acuerdos que no están consignados o no están bien sintetizados en este resumen, y que deberían estarlo. Sería muy chévere que, sobre la base de este resumen, comenzara un proceso de intercambio de ideas sobre cómo mejorarlo.

Lo esencial es que la información circule, y que cada quien en su fuero interno pueda tener las bases requeridas para decidir a conciencia si votará a favor o en contra de la refrendación de los acuerdos de paz.

Ahora permítanme expresar mi posición personal sobre los acuerdos.

Quiero comenzar contándoles lo que dijo mi mamá cuando terminó de leer este resumen de los acuerdos: “Este es un texto profundo, con unas propuestas bastante interesantes y unas ideas muy bien elaboradas; ¿los que promueven el NO en el plebiscito han presentado un texto y unos argumentos de igual o similar calidad y profundidad?”

Yo, la verdad, no supe qué responderle más allá de “no he visto nada”. Por favor, quienes sepan de un documento con buenos argumentos en contra de la refrendación de los acuerdos de paz, avisen para contarle a mi mamá.

Creo que mi posición personal a favor del SI a la refrendación de los acuerdos de paztransluce claramente en lo que he dejado por escrito en mis columnas.

Pienso que ponerle fin al conflicto armado con las Farc-EP, y ojalá también con el ELN, facilitaría enormemente los procesos —de más largo aliento y mayor calado— de construcción de paz que tanto requieren ser afianzados y ampliados en nuestro país.

Honrar y materializar la excelente idea de construir una “paz territorial” exige que reconozcamos y que hagamos mucho más visibles y sonoros, los valientes, múltiples y diversos actores, procesos y organizaciones que desde hace décadas, no solo vienen resistiendo el conflicto y construyendo paz en los territorios, sino que además han venido elaborando participativamente importantes propuestas endógenas de desarrollo, a partir de las voces, las memorias y las aspiraciones de las comunidades campesinas, indígenas, afro, y los colectivos de mujeres, jóvenes, LGBT, víctimas y demás actores que han sido históricamente acallados por los poderosos de siempre.

Lograr una implementación deliberativa, ampliamente participativa
y con sentido territorial de los acuerdos representa
una oportunidad sin precedentes para transformar el país

 Los acuerdos de paz no son perfectos. Comparto profundas preocupaciones con algunos de los grandes líderes sociales del territorio con quienes he conversado sobre ello. Algunos ejemplos: ¿Por qué se establece que el poder de decisión sobre los usos del suelo es del Gobierno, y no de las comunidades? ¿Por qué se insiste en un modelo de asistencia técnica impuesto de arriba hacia abajo sobre los campesinos? ¿Por qué no se toca a la institucionalidad que, como dijo uno de los participantes en nuestros talleres de lectura deliberativa de los acuerdos de paz, “si es esa misma institucionalidad la que va a estar a cargo de implementar estos acuerdos… poca fe”? ¿Cómo se puede hablar de paz territorial sin concretar propuestas de reforma al modelo centralista del Estado colombiano?

Sin embargo, leyendo los acuerdos de paz en clave de memoria histórica se pueden ver claras y profundas conexiones entre las propuestas que en ellos se plantean y las causas y los efectos del conflicto. Esto me ha convencido de que lograr una implementación deliberativa, ampliamente participativa y con sentido territorial de los acuerdos representa una oportunidad sin precedentes para transformar el país y orientarlo hacia una senda de paz, reconciliación, justicia e igualdad.

En este sentido, veo con profunda tristeza y preocupación las deplorables estratagemas, desplegadas por algunos políticos y medios, para desinformar y polarizar a la opinión pública; no entiendo con qué propósito distinto a confundir a la ciudadanía y frenar al país para seguir favoreciendo a los eternos, minoritarios y caducos beneficiarios del statu quo.”

Source: Un resumen de los acuerdos de paz – Las2orillas

Brooklyn Microgrid World’s First Peer-to-Peer, Blockchain Energy Transaction

“The future in peer-to-peer consumer energy exchange is here. The world’s first small-scale power grid, a microgrid, to use consumer blockchain transaction (think Bitcoin) has begun in New York.

The first paid energy transaction between two individuals happened on April 11, on President Street, Brooklyn, where long-term resident and social justice activist Eric Fruman sold excess renewable energy from his solar rooftop installation to ex-Energy Star National Director Bob Sauchelli. This was the beginning of a relationship between five homes on one side of President Street, producing energy and selling their excess, to five homes on the other side.

The Brooklyn microgrid is a small-scale solar venture in the Gowanus and Park Slope neighborhoods. It enables residents to trade and sell solar energy locally, via rooftop solar setups without the involvement of national utility companies. Instead they rely on a New York startup called TransActive grid.

TransActive grid (TAG) is a joint venture between LO3 Energy, founded by Lawrence Orsini, and consensus systems, which allows customers to exchange energy between each other using a combination of smart contracts and a blockchain software called Ethereum.

Blockchains are programs that make it possible to create digital ledgers. They are favored by the financial market due to their security, transparency, and ability to run in real time.

“You know exactly what happened, when it happened, who consumed what, and who produced what,” said Orsini in a telephone interview.

Blockchains are commonly known for their association with Bitcoin. As Orsini puts it, “Bitcoin is to blockchain like Kleenex is to tissue.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo started the “Reforming the Energy Vision” strategy after Hurricane Sandy left two million people in New York without power in 2011.  It is a bid to clean up the state and promote better energy efficiency in the form of microgrids, roof-top solar installations, and so on, as well as providing affordability and a wider choice for customers in how they manage and consume their energy.

In Feb. 2015, Cuomo requested adding a $40 million incentive for a number of microgrids to be designed that could run parallel to the national grid. In the event of a storm, like Hurricane Sandy, they could separate and become independent from the main grid so that if the main grid gets knocked out, power remains for selected areas.

According to Orsini, 30 percent of the energy content of the resources that are taken from the ground are lost in the production of energy in power plants. And another 7 percent is lost when the energy is transported from the power plant to a remote building.

“It is a much more sane way to build a utility infrastructure,” says Orsini, who likes to think of microgrids as not being “disruptive to utilities but as evolving utilities.””

Source: Brooklyn Microgrid World’s First Peer-to-Peer, Blockchain Energy Transaction

The Israel-Nazi Germany Analogy: Rethinking the ‘Banality of Evil’ Theory – Haaretz

“What makes some political regimes evil? Why do some human beings, especially if they belong to ethnic, racial, religious or national majorities, want to expel others from their homes, take away their work, their land and their property, put them in prisons, torture or kill them – especially if the latter are members of minority groups?
The evilness of the human heart has long preoccupied theologians and philosophers. In the 1960s, a social scientist resolved to use the methods of science to understand the nature of evil, what made people engage in large-scale massacres, of the kind for which Europe had just recently been the theater. For that purpose, he devised what became one of the most influential experiments of all times. This man was named Stanley Milgram, the son of Jewish Europeans who had immigrated to the United States. The brilliant experimental psychologist from Yale University was deeply troubled by the genocide of the Jews. As he himself said, the impulse behind his studies stemmed directly from the Shoah.
The experiment, which began running in 1961, involved recruiting subjects who were made to believe they were participating in a study about how people learn. The subjects were invariably assigned to the role of “teacher,” while all of the “learners” in fact were part of Milgram’s team. The teacher would read a list of pairs of words to the learner, and then go over the list again, asking the learner to recall the second word in each pair. Each time the learner gave a wrong answer, he was administered an electric shock, with the strength of the shock rising each time another wrong answer was given.

There were 15 levels of shocks, with the highest – marked, “extreme shock: danger” – said to be set at 450 volts. As the shocks became more severe, the “learner,” who was really an actor, began to protest more strenuously, eventually screaming in pain, before going ominously silent. But if and when the volunteer said he wanted to stop, that he was concerned for the welfare of the learner, the person overseeing the trial would respond, with a firm voice, “you must continue” or say, “the experiment requires you to continue.”
What made the experiment particularly brilliant was that before he ran it, Milgram surveyed a wide sample of people and social groups and asked them to evaluate the likelihood that people would administer the maximum shock, if instructed to do so. Almost all the people he polled predicted the percentage would be very low, that most people would refuse to cooperate with the experimenter.
The actual results were stunning: 65 individuals administered the final maximum electric shock of 450 volts. Many expressed great discomfort in doing so (sweating, shaking, trembling, stuttering, etc.), but nonetheless, they continued until the end. As Milgram put it in a 1974 article: “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” He identified obedience to hierarchy as crucial to the process of destroying others.
This experiment resonated with another highly publicized thesis offered by Hannah Arendt, in her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” In fact, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, which was covered by political philosopher Arendt, also took place in 1961, getting under way a few short months before Milgram’s experiments, and he could not have been ignorant of the bewildering question Arendt’s report had raised: Was the cataclysm of the Shoah the deed of a monstrous, abnormal, atypical people, or the result of an undiagnosed but latent disease of regular, ordinary human beings?
Rather than being exceptional, claimed Arendt, the Shoah was the ultimate expression of a universal and banal capacity to not ask questions, to fulfill orders, to trust in one’s superiors. In analyzing Eichmann’s own account, Arendt had come to the conclusion that the person who had signed orders to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews had been only a cog in a vast bureaucratic machine of killing.
Christopher Browning’s classic 1992 study of the 101st Reserve Battalion of the Ordnungspolizei (Order Police) provided further historical proof of the thesis: He studied a reserve unit whose members were ordinary working-class German men, who were drafted to serve in occupied Poland, and whose assignment included killing, by bullet, tens of thousands of Jews (some 83,000 in total). They shot at close range, ceaselessly, from morning to night, men, women, children, old people, pregnant women, babies. And because this was a harrowing task – their uniforms quickly became soaked in blood, and they witnessed close-up the growing piles of corpses – their commander gave them the option, during one particularly horrendous massacre, not to participate in the butchery. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of soldiers continued shooting: that is, they preferred to bow to pressure, both from their superiors and from their peers.
Out of 500, only 12 (!) took advantage of the option not to shoot. The very title of Browning’s book, “Ordinary Men,” emphasized too the normality of men who could execute monstrous acts: The men of Reserve Battalion 101 were not committed Nazis and none had criminal records. They simply did what others did and what they were told to do.
The theses offered by Milgram, Arendt and Browning are strikingly convergent. All arrived at the conclusion that a key explanation of evil, even of its most extreme form, was a latent tendency of all human beings: the propensity to follow orders and to conform. The “banality of evil” thesis – the idea of the crushing power of hierarchical authority or of peer pressure – universalized both victims and perpetrators. In the same way that the Shoah became the universal symbol of all victims of racism and hatred, its perpetrators became the universal symbols of the dormant human propensity to fall into barbarity.
For Milgram, Arendt and Browning, then, a monster need not have horns and a tail; nor does he need to be mentally ill, a deficient father or a cruel husband. Most surprisingly, the monster does not even really need to hate the person he kills. A monster need only have a few banal capacities: to accept authority unquestioningly, to be susceptible to group and peer pressure, and to display a special kind of forgetfulness – of the humanity of the human being he destroys.
The banality of evil thesis became especially influential in academia, probably because its thesis suits well the axioms of social psychology and sociology that say that people’s behavior is shaped by a group. This thesis, however, suffers from three flaws, and therefore the time has come to reexamine it.
The first flaw in the thesis is that it makes evil itself banal. If everyone has a Nazi sleeping inside, it makes it more difficult to be scandalized by barbarity. It also makes it more difficult to hold those who perpetuate barbarian acts morally responsible for their acts..
Second, the thesis tends to decontextualize evil: A soldier shooting at an adolescent who throws a stone at a checkpoint becomes equivalent to a soldier releasing hydrogen cyanide into a gas chamber.
Finally, the thesis has distracted our attention from other, perhaps more powerful forms of evil – those that derive from people’s deep belief that others are inferior, that they represent a danger to their group and society, that they deserve to be expelled, imprisoned or killed. The banality thesis is blatantly inadequate to address people’s readiness to expropriate the property, dignity and freedom of others, not because they have been ordered to do so, but out of a sense of moral entitlement and moral mission. The political leaders of evil regimes are not obeying orders when they incite to hatred against a minority group, when they propose racist laws, when they encourage the army and the police to commit violence acts, or in branding as traitors those who attempt to uphold the rights of members of minority groups. When they do this, politicians are acting according to their perception of what is right. Whence the question: What must happen in a society for a large group of people and its representatives to transform violence into a form of moral behavior?
In a very important book, “Diviser Pour Tuer” (“Divide and Kill”), which inspired and shaped my reflections above, the Dutch sociologist Abram de Swaan rejects the thesis of the banality of evil by inquiring into the conditions that precede genocides. He examined the cultural context and frame of the various nations that massacred so many people during the 20th century throughout the world. An estimated 100 million people, says de Swaan, perished after being targeted by other human beings in Congo, Indonesia, South-West Africa, China, Mexico, Cambodia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Turkey, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Kosovo and of course all those killed by Germany.
Genocides, de Swaan writes, are preceded by two powerful cognitive and emotional features. The first is the capacity of a particular group to create a very high internal cohesiveness, to feel unified by a strong and glorious common historical past and by a shared sense of mission; the second is the capacity to “dis-identify” with other groups, to draw a rigid boundary between “us” and “them” – a process that usually occurs after the minority group has been isolated, physically or symbolically, from the majority. Strategies of isolation can include putting members of the minority into ghettos, having them wear a distinctive mark (like a yellow star), or building fences, literally dividing “us” and “them.” According to de Swaan, these constitute the necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for massacres or genocides.
Are groups a source of evil?
Collective identification does not automatically derive from the spontaneous and natural fact of being born into same group. It is actively maintained through beliefs in the uniqueness and greatness of the group. Identification with a group is achieved by telling the story of its creation, often located in a remote past, in which a god (or several gods) assisted. Some groups even have a story of how they were chosen by God to accomplish a special mission on earth. Identification with the group is further maintained by marking out the fundamental differences of one’s own group from other groups.
Nazis excelled at both tasks. They bestowed on Germans a presumably ancient lineage found in the Aryans. The Aryans were at the top of a hierarchy of human beings; they were the HerrenVolk (the master race), which was entrusted with a special mission (to conquer the land and erase the lower races – Slavs, Jews, etc.). The belief in a common ancestry enabled the articulation of a messianic vocation to the group: Nazis believed that their noble origins made them a chosen people endowed with the mission of redeeming the world.
German historian Hartmut Lehman has showed, for example, that throughout the 19th century, the camp of conservative, devout and nationalist religious Protestants in Germany came to develop the notion of a special covenant between God and the Germans. That idea became especially strong after the 1870 victory of Germany over France in the Franco-Prussian War. Those Protestants were the most likely to take part in the German national movement and to hate the French (who had invented human rights and the Enlightenment), as well as the socialists and liberals inside Germany. As Lehman put it: “The idea that the Germans were a chosen people and that they should make special sacrifices in order to regain greatness were some of the most dangerous and misleading Nazi slogans after 1933.” The sense of a group’s greatness, of its historic mission, of its superiority, can forge a powerful collective narrative that unifies its members.
That sense of unity, of “group-ness,” is also manifested by the daily and routine exclusion of others – in deeds, in law and in ideology. Nazis were racist, but ironically, they were racist first and foremost because they adopted a racial view of themselves which they institutionalized through the mechanisms of the state. Nazis divided Germans into true and non-true, thus putting a mystique of blood at the center of their nationality. True Germans were now defined, by lineage, as being descendants of Aryans.
Lineage and ancestry transformed German-ness into a race. This is also why Nazis became so preoccupied with preserving the “purity” of their blood and race. Once lineage was crucial to nationality, nationality became defined in biological terms: One was either born German or wasn’t; one either had German “blood” or didn’t. It is this racial conception of themselves that led Nazis to establish a process that would trace the purity of one’s family lineage and prove one’s Aryan ancestry. Beginning in April 1933, this certificate was required from all employees and officials in the public sector. This racial conception of the German nation further explains why Nazis abhorred mixed marriages between Jews and Germans.
If a true German was someone of Aryan ancestry – that is, if citizenship became a matter of biological lineage – it was far easier to turn, overnight, bona fide citizens into non-citizens. Nazis thus illustrated what sociologists know: namely, that groups do not have intrinsic or natural boundaries. These boundaries – between “us” and “them” – can be easily shifted. Jews viewed themselves as full members of the German or French nations until these nations “reclassified” them according to ethnic or racial criteria. The Nazi notion of race divided humanity into un-mixable human groups, making mixing itself a crime, the sign of a degenerate humanity.
A distinctive characteristic of evil regimes in general is the belief in the need to preserve the racial or ethnic or religious purity of the dominant group, with minority groups – be they “Jews,” “Muslims,” “Tutsis” or “Armenians” – becoming a qualitatively distinct group, a compact entity perceived to be radically “other,” distinct from the majority by dint of some invisible and powerful criterion. Mixed marriages represent a dangerous threat of pollution to the purity of the race.
Such polarization between social groups, de Swaan says, are not born overnight. The capacity to divide sharply between “us” and “them,” and to view the “them” as a foreign element in our midst, is the product of a historical process through which new modes of thought are acquired.
Nazis could instill new habits of thought through a number of factors that had simmered and percolated in German society for a decade. Germany had lost the Great War, and in a country with a long authoritarian and militarist tradition, this defeat represented a blow to national identity and pride. Even though Germany had been an aggressor, many at home viewed it as a victim. The resentment regarding Germany’s military defeat crystallized, in the years following the armistice, around the “enemy within”: Political propaganda, media, academia and religious clergy all concurred to view Jews as inferior and dangerous, and to designate them and their supporters as traitors from within. These fears were compounded by great economic difficulties, which created a general climate of frustration among the working and middle classes. A sharp antagonism between political camps, one internationalist and one hyper-nationalist, was accompanied by a progressive weakening of liberal, democratic forces. All of these explain how the Nazis progressively enacted racist laws in a way that was virtually unhindered.
The Nazi worldviews became acceptable to a wide variety of Germans, not overnight but through a gradual change of norms. Evil political regimes rarely emerge full-blown overnight. They emerge after a period during which violence toward another group becomes gradually normalized, in which violence verbal and physical is a daily phenomenon, is justified, tolerated and progressively unnoticed. According to de Swaan, societies in which violence against another specific group is routinized and tolerated are societies in which the mechanism of civilization has broken down.
“Civilization” must be understood here in the sense that the Jewish sociologist Norbert Elias gave the word: as a historical process in which the state progressively monopolized violence, forbade members of a community to use violence against each other, and came to appropriate, exercise and symbolize law that was universally applied.
As the process unfolds, the state plays the role within its territory of pacifier in relations among its members. Civilization is created as people undergo the slow process of learning to restrain their aggressiveness, of paying attention to others through codes of civility, of spreading respect for the rule of law. Civilization has nothing to do with the presence of Mozart, Heine, high-tech or Google in its midst. Universalism flows naturally from “civilized” societies because once violence is prohibited, it becomes easier to view others as equal and similar to oneself.
De Swaan’s thesis is thus startling: Civilization breaks down when one group inside the collective body starts over-emphasizing its own cohesiveness and unity, thereby excluding other groups, isolating them, spatially and symbolically. It is an excess of unity that facilitates dis-identification from other groups, and thus encourages violence (immediately after the Brexit vote, England saw expressions of such breakdowns in codes of civility and in verbal violence against Polish or Latvian migrants). The paradoxical point here is thus that civilization breaks down through what individuals often experience as positive, warm feelings deriving from membership in a whole greater than themselves, in a unit imagined as eternal and unified.
The elusive power of analogies
The question of what makes a political regime into an evil one has become a burning one in Israel. Israel Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan provoked a ruckus earlier this year, when he expressed his fears that Israel of today contained elements that were reminiscent of the dark hours of Europe between the world wars. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, not known for his left-wing tendencies, has spoken of the country’s “dangerous drift.”
These claims, proffered by people who cannot be suspected of being pacifists, should give pause to any intelligent and responsible Israeli citizen. The political climate and policies of Israel of the last few years have been variously qualified as “fascist,” “Nazi,” “apartheid” and reminiscent of the Weimar Republic. In this super-game of super-analogies, it has become difficult to know just what, if anything, has made Israel become an evil state.
Let me say from the outset that however much we may oppose the occupation, the analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany must be erased from our conceptual map. A small country recently born, engaged in a prolonged military conflict, dominated by a religious worldview and engaged in a messy colonial enterprise cannot be compared to an old country determined to dominate the world through a secular and racial worldview, engaged in the systematic conquest of land, and in the industrial mass destruction of civilians who were not in any way its self-declared enemies. To draw a direct line between a soldier in a concentration camp and a soldier shooting at a Palestinian attacker lying on the ground, subverts one’s intelligence. However revolting both situations are, and however much they may draw on some presumed primal instinct to kill and humiliate – they occur in drastically different contexts.
The “banality of evil” thesis tempts us to such analogies, but obscures crucial differences between historical and other contexts, and ultimately confuses the similarity of our moral outrage with the similarity of contexts. Such confusion ultimately makes it more difficult to understand the nature of what we oppose. Israel is not Nazi (it does not want to conquer the world and has not industrialized its oppression of Palestinians), it is not fascist (Israel has several parties competing for power and a free press); and it is not overseeing a system of South African-style apartheid. (Apartheid was not part of a military conflict, whereas the very group that Israel oppresses and segregates, the Palestinians, are also engaged through a system of regional alliances in a military conflict with Israel through its identification with self-declared enemies of Israel as Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Lebanon Yet, many in Israel and around the world are growing increasingly uneasy about the political actions and statements proffered by representatives of the government, so much so that we may speak of a new political regime having taken over. So what exactly is the current Israeli regime?
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein offered a concept that may help the perplexed here, using the following example: Such activities as card games, board games, ball games and strategic games are all different (with different rules and objectives) and in fact even have nothing in common (Monopoly, Scrabble and chess games have nothing in common). Yet, Wittgenstein says, we know they are all games and that they bear what he calls a “family resemblance.” We know they are games in the same way we know three people are of the same family when we look at their faces, even if we cannot pinpoint a specific identical trait. There can be a family resemblance between different objects, even if we cannot isolate a common overlapping trait.
Wittgenstein’s analogy was for language but it is an apt one to understand what is at stake here: Israel’s current colonialist regime bears a family resemblance with other evil regimes, even if it does not share overlapping features with them. It is not Nazi, not apartheid, not fascist – yet it belongs to that unhappy family. How do we know that? James Waller – a specialist in the study of the Shoah and genocide in general – gives a hint: “The greatest catastrophes occur when the distinctions between war and crime fade; when there is dissolution of the boundaries between military and criminal conduct, between civility and barbarity … Such acts are human evil writ large.”

The question is thus the following one: Is the distinction between war and crime fading in contemporary Israel? This question was poignantly illustrated by the act of Elor Azaria, an IDF soldier in uniform who shot to death a wounded Palestinian lying on the ground, in alleged violation of all rules of military engagement. It is not by accident that this affair has shaken Israeli society to the core, sending a competent defense minister home and driving wedges between the political class, the top military brass and the general population. This is because the question that implicitly reverberated through this affair was whether the distinction between crime and war is fading in Israel.

For the distinction between warfare and crime against a population to start fading, the state itself must be the source and origin of ordinary violence directed at ordinary citizens. Moreover, such a state and its representatives must use an ideology to justify violence against the minority group, and must try to enshrine in law to make it look unavoidable, necessary and even moral.

In Israel the rabbinate has played an increasingly powerful role in transforming nationality into a quasi-racial definition, reserved only for a group that meets clear biological requirements (conversion processes are so difficult and humiliating that they are de facto a politics whose purpose is to dissuade non-Jews from joining the Jewish people, thus reinforcing the biological view that a Jew is someone born of a Jewish mother). It is not by chance that religious people in Israel are spearheading racist views. Rabbis on the public payroll call for not employing Arabs and for boycotting shops that do so; these rabbis also call on the population not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs. They frequently cite the Torah to justify the idea that that Jewish and non-Jewish lives are of unequal value. In fact, the view that Jews and non-Jews are both equally the children of God would be, for many religious Jews, sacrilege, a profanation of Judaism. The Lehava organization, that which battles against interfaith marriages and has set for itself the goal of maintaining the racial purity of Jews has been, as revealed in Haaretz in 2011, indirectly financed by the State of Israel.

A legal prohibition on civil and non-Orthodox weddings is preventing 660,000 Jewish Israelis – including 364,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union (or their children) from marrying, because one or two of the partners in the union does not conform biologically to the rabbis’ definition of Jewishness, since the mother is not Jewish. A religiously Orthodox Knesset member proudly declared his wife would not be willing to share a room in the same maternity ward as an Arab mother. His wife had asked the hospital to remove her from the care of an Arab obstetrician because, at the special moment of the birth, she wanted to be surrounded by Jews.

Such an approach is common among a certain section of the Orthodox public, and suggests a racial definition of “sanctity.” The minister of education, also Orthodox, ordered the removal of a novel from the required high-school curriculum because it presented a love story between a Jewish Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from Israel (and this against the own recommendation of a panel of professionals). Such a step would have dignified many Southern states in the U.S. when slavery was still in place.
An MK, a settler, who had casually declared in the past that Israeli Arabs that turn against “us” should have their heads chopped off, was promoted to the rank of defense minister. An MK from Habayit Hayehudi declared that Palestinian women and the elderly can be legitimate targets in times of war, in violation of elementary international law. That same woman is now the minister of justice.

The chief rabbi of the Israeli army – someone who is supposed to provide moral and spiritual guidance in situations of extreme moral dilemma – declared in the past that the lives of Jews and non-Jews could never have the same value. In the occupied territories, the army itself turns a blind eye to daily crimes against Palestinians and de facto becomes an accomplice to them.

The State of Israel frequently imprisons Palestinian men, women and children without a stated charge, simply on the basis of vague suspicions. A poet – an Israeli citizen – simply calling on her Arab brothers to resist Israeli colonial rule was thrown in jail.

In this context, it is not surprising that many Israelis have enthusiastically expressed support for Elor Azaria among the general public (82 percent of those commenting on social networks expressed support of the soldier’s act) and by senior politicians. In this case, the distinction between crime and acts of war fades, and the army is increasingly dragged into this process.
To dub all of the above as sporadic events or as less significant than the fact that Israel has a “vibrant democracy” is tantamount to moral bankruptcy. These acts constitute a coherent matrix, rooted not in the fundamentals of Zionist theory, but in settler ideology, which, even if the latter reflects some key themes of early Zionism, fundamentally distorted its spirit and intentions by incorporating them into a messianic view of Jewish history and a sacralization of the land.

File photo of Jewish settlers throwing rocks towards Palestinians during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus, April 30, 2013. AP
Shimon Dotan’s recent film, “The Settlers,” is a powerful documentation of this ideology. As the movie shows persuasively, the settlement movement was from the outset both messianic and lawless, driven by a religious, mystical impulse to free Jewish land and Jewish tombs, to allow one to re-immerse oneself in the land of the forefathers. Various rabbis (Abraham Isaac Kook and Moshe Levinger, for example) played a crucial role in the inception of the movement and presented these ideas with much pathos, thus transforming the Jewish people from a political entity into a mystical, trans-historical entity, having a natural right to the land promised by God himself. Settlers view themselves as direct heirs to Joshua’s project to settle the land, thus reenacting the historical narrative of the Bible. This is why they hold democracy in contempt, and view it as self-evident that Jews are the chosen people, directly elected by God.

More than any other group perhaps, they dread the mixing of ethnic groups and advocate ethnic isolation (except in cases where non-Jews can provide cheap or free labor). Settler ideology is thus at once fundamentalist and lawless: It despises state authority and jurisdiction and aims to restore the kingdom of God, by violent means if necessary. This fundamentalist, lawless, anarchic and messianic ideology has slowly penetrated to the center of the state apparatus. Calls to violence now emanate from the state level, thus generating a breakdown of the rule of law and of civilization among the general population.

Countless ordinary interactions in Israel are negotiated through the violent assertion of one’s right and power. Violence percolates through the Israeli social bond, rippling and undulating in many different ways. A hyper-nationalist policy creates a situation of a war of all against all, and no group is spared hatred: Arabs first and foremost, Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, non-Jews, left-wingers, right-wingers, secular people, religious people, settlers. How else should we characterize the dominion of Likud over the state, if not as the subtle normalization of violence, as the slow disintegration of law, order and justice?

A recent survey of Israeli youth, conducted by the daily Israel Hayom, captures these deep trends aptly. Among 11th and 12th graders polled, 59 percent identified themselves as right-wing, 23 percent classified themselves as centrist, and only 13 percent said they considered themselves left-wing. Similarly, 85 percent said they “love” Israel, 89 percent see their future here, and 65 percent said they agree with the line, attributed to pre-state military hero Joseph Trumpeldor, that, “It is good to die for one’s country.”
The same poll found nearly half of Jewish Israeli high-school students agreeing that Arabs should not have the right to vote. To the question, “Do you think Arab Israelis should be represented in the Knesset?” 48 percent of those polled responded, “no.” Asked what they loved most about Israel, the top answers were that the country felt like a family and that Israelis banded together in a time of crisis.”

Dotan’s movie shows a striking abundance of footage of joyful settlers chanting and dancing, celebrating weddings, bar mitzvahs, births, religious holidays, land grabbing, new illegal settlements, expulsions of Palestinians, victories against the state – and mostly, reveling in the intimacy and joyful communion of the great family of the Jewish people. Even more distressing than the calls to see an Israel that extends from the Nile to the Euphrates, are the indelible images of ordinary men, joyfully chanting and dancing, advancing from victory to victory, convinced they have been divinely election, on both the personal and collective levels, and indifferent to the thunderous the collapse of the rule of law, of justice, and of humanity itself. Greedy land grabbers have become the moral compass of Israeli Judaism.
In his provocatively titled “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” published in 1932, the great Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr argued that there is a “basic difference between the morality of individuals and the morality of collectives, whether races, classes or nations.”

What is this basic difference? For him, groups are inherently selfish and uncaring. He meant that groups have a tendency to close up and to fetishize themselves, and that when they crowd too densely around common beliefs about themselves, they undo the delicate normative fabric that holds diverse human beings together.

I concur with Niebuhr. Closed-up groups are selfish, have a tendency to legitimize their own violence and suffer from a deficit of intelligence. If there is one thing that powerful democracies have learned, it is that collective solidarity and strength are built inclusively rather than exclusively, by mixing different humanities and contemplating the startling outcome of hybridized forms of intelligence. Solidarity built from mythical pasts and from messianism has the fugitive beauty and engineering stupidity of a sand castle, and will be quickly washed away by history.

In the face of the chanting and dancing ecstasy of settlers, we may quote the French, 19th-century thinker Gustave Le Bon: “A group … accepts as real the images evoked in its mind, though they most often have only a very distant relation with the observed fact … Whoever can supply [a group] with illusions is clearly their master; whoever attempts to destroy illusions is always their victim.””

Source: The Israel-Nazi Germany Analogy: Rethinking the ‘Banality of Evil’ Theory – Haaretz

‘Badass Librarians’ Foil al Qaeda, Save Ancient Manuscripts

“In 2012, jihadists—armed to the teeth with weapons seized in Libya after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi—overran northern Mali and established a brutal, sharia regime in Timbuktu. Once a center of learning and culture, the city housed a priceless collection of manuscripts: volumes of poetry, encyclopedias, and even sexual manuals that invoked the name of Allah. Threatened with destruction, the manuscripts were spirited out of the city to safety in a thrilling, cloak-and-dagger operation.

Speaking from his home in Berlin, Joshua Hammer, a formerNewsweek bureau chief in Africa, recounts the tale of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts—and explains how the Timbuktu manuscripts disprove the myth that Africa had no literary or historical culture, why Henry Louis Gates had an epiphany when he saw them, and why the jihadists found them so threatening.

Timbuktu has become a byword for the farthest corner of the earth. But it was once an important cultural and artistic center. Put us on the ground during its golden age.

Several of the great travelers of the Renaissance, in the 15th-16th centuries, passed through Timbuktu and described it as a thriving commercial center with camel caravans and traders on boats on the Niger River bearing everything from linens and teapots from England to slaves and gold out of the rain forests of Central Africa. At the same time, you had this academic tradition. So you had a thriving commercial center side by side with a Cambridge/Oxford-like atmosphere of fervent scholastic activity.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb swept to power in Mali. Talk about its rise—and its fanatical leader, Abou Zeid. 

Abou Zeid was one of a triumvirate of jihadists, probably the most brutal of them, who took over northern Mali between January and April in 2012. Another leader was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian jihadist who had been hardened fighting in Afghanistan and fallen in with some of the most notorious international jihadists. He was also a cigarette smuggler, who made millions by dominating the cigarette trade across the Sahara up into North Africa. This earned him the nickname “Mister Marlboro.”

In the chaos of the uprising against Qaddafi, the jihadists raided the armories of Libya, took the weapons into Mali, and quickly swept across the northern part of the country, occupying all of the major towns in the north, including Timbuktu. They imposed sharia law and began to destroy every symbol of moderate Sufi Islam that almost all residents of modern Timbuktu subscribe to. Shrines to Sufi saints were destroyed; whippings and amputations were carried out in the public squares of the city; and, of course, the manuscripts were threatened.

The manuscripts were not kept in an archive, but by individual families. Explain this unusual provenance—and how it helped preserve them.

Timbuktu was a university town during its golden age. Many of the universities were operated out of mosques, so you had a lot of books and manuscripts being created for the scholars. At the same time, you had these wealthy families that valued learning. Because it had this long scholastic tradition, Timbuktu also had a great literary tradition: powerful Timbuktu families measuring their importance by the books they accumulated on Greek philosophy, poetry, love stories, guides to better sex, astronomy, traditional medicine, as well as the religious books. They would be copied by scribes and accumulated both in the universities and in private homes. So huge libraries were created, numbering in the thousands of volumes. Nobody knows how many manuscripts were in the city at its peak but it was almost certainly in the hundreds of thousands.

The hero of your book is a man named Abdel Kader Haidara. Give us a character sketch and describe his extraordinary efforts to collect the manuscripts together. 

Abdel Kader Haidara is the son of a scholar from Timbuktu. His father ran an Islamic school in the oldest quarter of Timbuktu. So Abdel Kader grew up around these manuscripts. When he was 17, his father died. He had a dozen brothers and sisters but in the will his father made him the heir to the family book collection, which numbered in the thousands at that time. His father appreciated Abdel Kader’s scholarship and studiousness. He was also fluent in Arabic, which was essential if you were going to be in charge of these manuscripts as they were almost all written in Arabic.

A few years later, the curator for the national library in Timbuktu called on Abdel Kader and asked him if he would take on a job, traveling around the countryside visiting villages and nomadic encampments, trying to track down some of the ancient manuscripts that had been disbursed into the desert. Timbuktu was conquered by the Moroccans in the 1590s and a lot of the books were spirited out of the city. Abdel Kader reluctantly took on the job—he wanted to be a businessman rather than a scholar working in a library—and began trudging around the countryside in camel caravans or taking boats along the Niger, trying to persuade these villagers to give up their precious family heirlooms and turn them all over to this national library in Timbuktu.

He proved to be incredibly successful at this and also found that he loved the job. He built the national library into a great institution and turned his own family’s collection into a library in Timbuktu, raised money, and got other librarians involved. By the year 2000, Timbuktu had become a cultural boomtown that had recaptured some of the glory of its heyday in the 16th century, when it was the scholastic center of North Africa. He found manuscripts stashed away in dark storage rooms or caves in the desert. By the time of the jihadi invasion of 2012, he had assembled a collection of 377,000 manuscripts.

You call the manuscripts “monumentally subversive.” Explain.

Because they posited a worldview that was anathema to the jihadists. There were celebrations of music, which the Salafist fundamentalists do not tolerate, and books about sex in which the reader was asked to invoke the name of Allah as a way of heightening his sexual prowess. Abdel Kader especially valued these things because they showed a more tolerant side of Islam.

Henry Louis Gates came to Timbuktu to see the manuscripts in 1996. Why was the experience such an epiphany for him? 

Henry Louis Gates came to Timbuktu when he was a professor at Harvard and also making documentaries about African civilization. He’d grown up with the idea that Africans were savages. He recalled a Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon he’d seen as a small boy, which said that there had been libraries and universities in Timbuktu. When he finally got to Harvard and began making documentaries, one of the first things he wanted to do was go up to Timbuktu and tell the story of these universities to try to refute the cliché that Africans had no history or intellectual traditions. The argument was that blacks were inferior to Europeans because they had no written language. In Timbuktu, Gates went to see Abdel Kader Haidara, fell in love with the manuscripts, and ended up going back to the U.S. and raising almost $100,000 for Haidara to open the first private library in the city.

The final rescue of the manuscripts by river to the capital, Bamako, was an amazing cloak-and-dagger operation. Set the scene for us. 

There were three stages of the operation. The first was after Abdel Kader became concerned that the jihadists might target the manuscripts. So they moved them out of the big libraries of Timbuktu into safe houses around the city. They did it at night, putting the manuscripts in boxes and moving them by donkey cart to people’s basements and storage rooms. In the second phase, a couple of months later, they moved them out of the city by vehicle: one vehicle after another, in constant motion, often escorted by teenage couriers, over 600 miles of desert, passing through checkpoints and bluffing their way all the way to Bamako, the capital in the south.

The third phase, after the French Army invaded and it became too dangerous to move the books by road, involved taking them by boat up the Niger River toward Bamako, then offloading them from the boats and putting them into taxis. It was an elaborate and dangerous process that went on for months, right under the noses of the jihadists.

The French were called “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” by proponents of the Iraq War. But their prompt and decisive military action in Mali rather disproved that moniker, didn’t it? 

There was no way the U.S. was going to go to war in Mali. There was no oil [laughs], and it was Francophone territory. So Obama was delighted when President Hollande announced he was going to send troops in, after the jihadists overreached and tried to take over the rest of the country.

The showdown came at a place called Ametettai. A Foreign Legion officer, Captain Oudot de Danville, led a group of hardened paratroopers into battle. They traveled over many miles in the high desert of Mali to Ametettai, where they fought a fight to the finish against the jihadists, who were hunkered down inside caves in this very rocky, arid, brutally hot valley. There were also regular French and Chadian forces, who are really hardened badasses, as well. And they were able to pretty much wipe out the jihadists in one week of fighting.

You end the story in 2014, with the manuscripts still stored in Bamako. What’s the current situation? And will they ever go back to Timbuktu?

Who knows? The manuscripts have all been collected in one large storage facility in Bamako, so they have been brought together under one roof. They are being digitized and those that were damaged in the course of the smuggling operation are being carefully restored. Meanwhile, Abdel Kader is keeping an eye on the situation in Timbuktu. He would love to take them back but he doesn’t think the time is right. I’m not really sure when that time will be. It’s already been three years, and I don’t think there’s any end in sight to this purgatory. Last November, there was an attack on the Radisson Hotel in Bamako, so the jihadists are infiltrating the southern part of the country, which they were never able to do at the height of their occupation in the north. I don’t think they will ever again be able to mount a major operation to seize territory. But they’re still out there.”

Source: ‘Badass Librarians’ Foil al Qaeda, Save Ancient Manuscripts

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