Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 2016

David Cameron silent on the recapture of Palmyra? (March 31, 2016)

The biggest military defeat that ISIS has suffered in more than two years. The recapture of Palmyra, the Roman city of the Empress Zenobia.

And we are silent. Yes, folks, the bad guys won, didn’t they? Otherwise, we would all be celebrating, wouldn’t we?

Less than a week after the lost souls of the ‘Islamic Caliphate’ destroyed the lives of more than 30 innocent human beings in Brussels, we should – should we not? – have been clapping our hands at the most crushing military reverse in the history of Isis.

But no. As the black masters of execution fled Palmyra this weekend, Messers Obama and Cameron were as silent as the grave to which Isis have dispatched so many of their victims.

He who lowered our national flag in honour of the head-chopping king of Arabia (I’m talking about Dave, of course) said not a word.

Najat Rizk shared a link.
Robert Fisk: Why is David Cameron silent on the recapture of Palmyra?
The biggest military defeat that isis has suffered in more than two years.
As my long-dead colleague on the Sunday Express, John Gordon, used to say, makes you sit up a bit, doesn’t it? Here are the Syrian army, backed, of course, by Vladimir Putin’s Russkies, chucking the clowns of Isis out of town, and we daren’t utter a single word to say well done.
When Palmyra fell last year, we predicted the fall of Bashar al-Assad. We ignored, were silent on, the Syrian army’s big question: why, if the Americans hated Isis so much, didn’t they bomb the suicide convoys that broke through the Syrian army’s front lines? Why didn’t they attack Isis?
“If the Americans wanted to destroy Isis, why didn’t they bomb them when they saw them?” a Syrian army general asked me, after his soldiers’ defeat
His son had been killed defending Homs. His men had been captured and head-chopped in the Roman ruins.
The Syrian official in charge of the Roman ruins , 70 years old (of which we cared so much, remember?) was himself beheaded. Isis even put his spectacles back on top of his decapitated head, for fun. And we were silent then.

Putin noticed this, and talked about it, and accurately predicted the retaking of Palmyra. His aircraft attacked Isis – as US planes did not – in advance of the Syrian army’s conquest.

I could not help but smile when I read that the US command claimed two air strikes against Isis around Palmyra in the days leading up to its recapture by the regime. That really did tell you all you needed to know about the American “war on terror”. They wanted to destroy Isis, but not that much.

So in the end, it was the Syrian army and its Hezbollah chums from Lebanon and the Iranians and the Russians who drove the Isis murderers out of Palmyra, and who may – heavens preserve us from such a success – even storm the Isis Syrian ‘capital’ of Raqqa.

 I have written many times that the Syrian army will decide the future of Syria. If they grab back Raqqa – and Deir el-Zour, where the Nusrah front destroyed the church of the Armenian genocide and threw the bones of the long-dead 1915 Christian victims into the streets – I promise you we will be silent again.

Aren’t we supposed to be destroying Isis? Forget it. That’s Putin’s job. And Assad’s.

Pray for peace, folks. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? And Geneva. Where is that, exactly?


How to live a more Danish life

How living like a Danish woman made me happier

(and why it can for you, too)

And where Helen Russell finally got pregnant


1.  Trust more

This is the number one reason the Danes are so happy – so try it. You’ll feel better, save yourself unnecessary stress, and trusting the people around you makes them behave better – so trust becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2.  Get hygge

Remember the simple pleasures in life: light a candle, make yourself a cup of coffee, eat some pastries. Be kind to yourself. And each other (Jerry Springer style).

3.  Leave work on time

Unless you’re Hillary Clinton (are you? *waves*) nothing terrible will happen if you actually go home on time. See family; take up a hobby: just clock off and get out.

4.  Use your body, outdoors

Danes cycle, run, swim and shake whatever they’ve got all year around, come rain or sleet. Using your body not only releases get-happy endorphins, doing it outside reduces stress and boosts wellbeing.

5.  Make your home beautiful

Danes do, and it engenders a respect for design, art and their everyday surroundings. Turns out a pretty home is a good step towards a happy home.

Helen Russell is the author of The Year of Living Danishly – Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (Icon, £8.99). She tweets @MsHelenRussell.

 Hunger’s spread in Yemen:

Thousands of infants pointing their fingers to this brutal pre-emptive war: Infant mortality on the rise exponentially

He vomited yellow fluid from his nose and mouth. Then he stopped breathing.

He didn’t cry and there were no tears, just stiff,” said his mother, Intissar Hezzam. “I screamed and fainted.”

The spread of hunger has been the most horrific consequence of Yemen’s war since rebels and the regular army seized the capital Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia and its allies, backed by the United States, responded with a campaign of airstrikes and a naval blockade a year ago.

The impoverished nation of 26 million, which imports 90 percent of its food, already had one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, but in the past year the statistics have leaped.

The number of people considered “severely food insecure” — unable to put food on the table without outside aid — went from 4.3 million to more than 7 million, according to the World Food Program. Ten of the country’s 22 provinces are classified as one step away from famine.

Where before the war around 690,000 children under five suffered moderate malnutrition, now the number is 1.3 million.

Even more alarming are the rates of severe acute malnutrition among children — the worst cases where the body starts to waste away — doubling from around 160,000 a year ago to 320,000 now, according to UNICEF estimates.

Exact numbers for those who died from malnutrition and its complications are unknown, since the majority were likely unable to reach proper care. But in a report released Tuesday, UNICEF said an estimated 10,000 additional children under five died of preventable diseases the past year because of the breakdown in health services, on top of the previous rate of nearly 40,000 children a year.

“The scale of suffering in the country is staggering,” UNICEF said in the report, and the violence “will have an impact for generations to come.”

The Saudi-led coalition launched its campaign on March 26, 2015, aiming to halt the advance of Shiite rebels known of Houthis who had taken over the capital, Sanaa, drove out the internationally recognized government (that had actually resigned) and stormed south.

The Houthi advance was halted. But they continue to hold Sanaa and the north. In the center of the country, they battle multiple Saudi-backed factions (mostly mercenaries from Columbia, Sudan, Pakistan…) supporting the government that tenuously holds the southern city of Aden.

Ground fighting and the heavy barrage of airstrikes have killed more than 9,000 people, including more than 3,000 civilians, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office.

More than 900 children have been killed and more than 1,300 wounded, 61 percent of them in airstrikes, according to UNICEF.

Coalition airstrikes appear to be “responsible for twice as many casualties as all other forces put together,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said. The coalition argues that the rebels often use civilians and civilian locations as shields for their fighters. It also disputes U.N. figures on how many deaths are caused by strikes, saying they are based on statistics from the Houthis.

Around 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes.

Strikes have destroyed storehouses, roads, schools, farms, factories, power grids and water stations. The naval blockade, enforcing a U.N. arms embargo on the rebels, has disrupted the entry of food and supplies.

The ripple effects from war have tipped a country that could already barely feed itself over the edge. The food, fuel and other supplies that do make it into the country are difficult to distribute because trucks struggle to avoid battle zones, fear airstrikes or need to scrounge for gas. Under control of Houthi fighters, government services from Sanaa are largely paralyzed.

The fate of Udai illustrated the many factors, all exacerbated by war, that lead to the death of an infant.

His family lives off the pension that Udai’s father, Faisal Ahmed, gets as a former soldier, about $200 a month for him, his wife and nine other children ranging from 2 years old to 16.

The father used to sometimes work construction, but those jobs disappeared in the war. With food prices rising and supplies sporadic, the family eats once a day, usually yoghurt and bread, peas on a good day, said Udai’s parents, both in their 30s.

The day Udai was born, warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition were striking an army base used by Houthi rebels in their district of Hazyaz, a shantytown on the southern edge of Sanaa. Shrapnel hit their one-bedroom house where Udai’s mother was in labor.

“She was screaming and delivering the baby while the bombardment was rocking the place,” the father said.

Hezzam breastfed her newborn son for about 20 days, but then her milk stopped, likely from her own malnutrition. Even after childbirth, she had to collect firewood for the mud brick stove at the doorstep of her house.

Like much of the country, electricity has long been knocked out in their neighborhood, either because of airstrikes or lack of fuel, and there’s rarely cooking gas.

“I go every day to faraway places to search for the wood then carry it home on my head,” she said.

The family turned to formula to feed Udai, but it wasn’t always available and they couldn’t always afford it.

So every few days, Udai got formula and the other days he would get sugar and water. Water trucks occasionally reach the area, but otherwise his parents had to use unclean water.

In the past year, the number of people without regular access to clean water has risen from 13 million people to more than 19 million, nearly three-quarters of the population.

Within three months, Udai was suffering from diarrhea. His father took him to local clinics but they either didn’t have supplies or he couldn’t afford what they did have. Finally, on March 20, he made it to the emergency section at al-Sabeen Hospital.

Udai was suffering from severe malnutrition, diarrhea and a chest infection, said Saddam al-Azizi, head of the emergency unit. He was put on antibiotics and a feeding solution through the nose.

The AP saw Udai at al-Sabeen on March 22. His arms were convulsing, his emaciated legs motionless, his face gaunt and pale. When he cried, he was too dehydrated to produce tears. At around five months old, he weighed 2.4 kilograms (5.3 pounds).

“Unstable,” his chart read for every day he’d been there.

Two days later, his parents took him home. His father told the AP it was because the doctors told them it was hopeless, and he complained the staff was not giving him enough treatment. Al-Azizi said he suspected it was because the family couldn’t afford the medicines. The hospital stay is free, but because medicines are in such short supply, families must pay for them, he said.

“It was a mistake to take him out,” he said. The treatment needed time to work.

Still, al-Azizi had given Udai only a 30 percent chance of survival.

Al-Sabeen was already dealing with dozens of malnourished children. In the first three months of the year, it has treated around 150 children with malnutrition, double the same period last year, al-Azizi said. Around 15 died, not counting Udai.

Some parents managed to get there from remote parts of the country. One woman described walking for four days from her mountain village outside Sanaa, carrying her emaciated daughter, who at two years old weighed only four kilograms (8.8 pounds).

Mohammed Ahmed brought his son here from the city of Ibb because the hospital there had no supplies. He drove the 90 miles (150 kilometers) through rebel checkpoints while warplanes struck, he said. His 10-month-old son Marwan, after 15 days in the hospital, now weighs 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds).

Hospitals and clinics around the country have suffered shortages of medicines and fuel, meaning millions live in areas that have virtually no medical care. UNICEF said nearly 600 health facilities nationwide have stopped working.

The Saudi-led coalition allows humanitarian flights bringing medical supplies as well food and water in to Sanaa as well as shipments into Hodeida port, the closest one to the capital. But getting the supplies around the country is difficult. Even pre-war transportation infrastructure was poor, and now trucks often can’t get through battle zones. Drivers fear getting hit by airstrikes or have to scrounge to obtain expensive gas.

Hospitals and clinics have been hit by airstrikes or caught up in fighting. In the battlefield city of Taiz, the Yemeni-Swedish Hospital for Children was damaged as rebels and Saudi-backed fighters fought over it. Parents had to rush their children being treated there back to their homes, and their fate is unknown.

Udai hardly lasted three hours after being brought home, his parents said. Ahmed, his father, said he blames Saudi Arabia’s air campaign for his son’s death.

“This is before the war,” he said, holding up his 2-year-old son Shehab to show the difference between a child born before the war and after.

They buried the infant at the foot of the mountains nearby. His father read the Quran over the tiny grave marked only by rocks, reciting, “On God we depend.”


Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press Writers Maad Al-Zikry in Sanaa, Yemen, and Lee Keath in Cairo contributed to this report

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Don’t turn away. These people are suffering from Saudi’s war backed by the US and Europe.

HAZYAZ, Yemen (AP) — The baby was born in war, even as planes blasted his village in Yemen.
Five months later, Udai Faisal died from war: his skeletal body…

Voices from the Middle East and Syria

ASWAT.ME (Voices from the Middle East) aims to support and empower the voices of women and girls in the Middle East.

Women affected by violent extremism face victimization, but they are also survivors, leaders and activists with the ability to speak directly about their experiences.

ASWAT.ME currently features one of the largest anonymous digital surveys of women’s voices from across the MENA region – over 10,000 women – to open discussion on critical issues such as education, mobility, and work outside the home.

ASWAT.ME will also highlight women’s resilience, leadership, independence and ingenuity to share untold stories of everyday heroines and challenge the perceptions of women and girls in the region.

In collaboration with
  • Methodology

    These studies were conducted anonymously, online, and simultaneously in 16 countries across the Middle East and North Africa in October and November 2015. Proprietary RDIT intercept technology was used to generate the sample. Results can be generalized to the population of internet users in each country.

    Take the survey

استمع لقصص لم تُروى من نساء هربن من العنف في سوريا. شاهد الإعلان الكامل.

The two-party system is suffocating independent challengers

By Ralph Nader March 25, 2016

a consumer advocate and author of “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.”

Ralph Nader: Why Bernie Sanders was right to run as a Democrat

The two-party system suffocates independent challengers.

I would know

During a recent town hall in Columbus, Ohio, Sen. Bernie Sanders said the unthinkable.

At least, you would have thought he did, judging by the response of several Democratic operatives. Sanders was deemed “extremely disgraceful” by Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and “a political calculating fraud” by Brad Woodhouse, a former DNC communications director.

What was his crime?

The old-fashioned Rooseveltian New Dealer had answered a question about why he is running as a Democrat, instead of as an independent, with typical candor: “In terms of media coverage, you had to run within the Democratic Party,” he observed, adding that he couldn’t raise money outside the major two-party process.

As one of the more successful third-party presidential candidates in recent U.S. history, I know firsthand the obstacles Sanders might have faced if he had run as an independent.

The reality is that Sanders is right, and the backlash against him reflects all too well what two-party tyranny can do to a more-than-nominal third-party challenger.

This is especially true of candidates like Sanders, who — despite advancing political views similar to the classic Democratic New Deal platform — now sits well to the left of the party’s corporatist, hawkish establishment.

I chose to run on the Green Party line in the 2000 presidential election with a pretty clear idea of what I was in for. I had run a limited write-in campaign in New Hampshire in 1992 and had accepted the Green nomination in 1996.

My interest in moving politics past the two-party duopoly began long before I first ran for president in 1996. Historically, many major reform movements (abolition, women’s suffrage, labor) have come out of smaller parties that never won national elections, starting with the anti-slavery Liberty Party in 1840.

Several different parties for women’s suffrage followed. Then came parties representing farmers’ struggles against railroads and banks, a movement that peaked in 1892 with the Populist Party.

Labor parties — which fought for fair labor standards, the right to organize and progressive taxation — rose to prominence in the 20th century, along with the Socialist Party of America, formed in 1901.

But when the Communist Party got on the national ballot after World War I, it drew widespread venom, and the two major parties began to raise barriers to ballot access and undertake other efforts to prevent these small parties from competing in elections.

Admiring these reform movements and critical of the Democratic Party’s decay, I knew what it would mean to run as a third-party candidate.

Just appearing on the ballot is a challenge for independent candidates.

While any Democrat or Republican who wins their party’s nomination is guaranteed a place on general-election ballots nationwide, smaller parties must, in many states, petition election officials to be listed.

And that is a delicate process, easy for the major parties to disrupt. Their operatives have a number of tools at their disposal to knock third-party candidates off the ballot, render their campaigns broke, and harass and ostracize them.

In 2004, Democratic operatives were especially zealous in their efforts against my campaign. They hired private investigators to harass my campaign’s petition circulators in their homes in Ohio and Oregon and falsely threatened them with criminal prosecution for fake names that saboteurs had signed on their petitions, according to sworn affidavits from the workers and letters containing threats that were presented in court.

Our petitions were also disqualified on arbitrary grounds: In Ohio, complaints submitted in court and to the office of the Secretary of State by groups of Democratic voters led officials there to invalidate our petitions. They disqualified hundreds of signatures on one list, for instance, because of a discrepancy involving the petition circulator’s signature.

In Oregon, Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury retroactively applied certain rules in a way that suddenly rendered our previously compliant petitions invalid.

Democrats and their allies (some later reimbursed by the DNC, according to both campaign finance reports and a party official in Maine who testified under oath) enlisted more than 90 lawyers from more than 50 law firms to file 29 complaints against my campaign in 18 states and with the Federal Election Commission for the express purpose of using the cost and delay of litigation to drain our resources.

“We wanted to neutralize his campaign by forcing him to spend money and resources defending these things,” operative Toby Moffett told The Washington Post in 2004.

Democrats falsely accused my campaign of fraud in state after state.

In Pennsylvania, they forced us off the ballot after challenging more than 30,000 signatures on spurious technical grounds.

My running mate, Peter Camejo, and I were ordered to pay more than $81,000 in litigation costs the plaintiffs, a group of Democratic voters, said they incurred. In an effort to collect, their law firm, Reed Smith, which the DNC also hired in that cycle, froze my personal accounts at several banks for eight years.

A criminal prosecution by the state attorney general later revealed that Pennsylvania House Democrats had, illegally at taxpayer expense, prepared the complaints against our campaign, and several people were convicted of related felonies.

A federal court in Pennsylvania ultimately struck down the state law used against me that had led to the order that I pay the litigation costs. But Reed Smith was still allowed to keep $34,000 it withdrew from my accounts, because state courts wouldn’t let me present evidence that could have permitted me to recover the money.

With the exception of this handful of felony convictions, most of the partisans who fought to keep me from running got away with it.

Given another chance, I still wouldn’t run as a Democrat; I continue to disagree with the party’s platform and direction. Sanders is different, though: However he’s appeared on Vermont ballots in the past, he’s really a progressive Democrat. He has caucused with the party in Congress for decades, even if its corporatist core has abandoned his New Deal priorities. This is perhaps why he has been able to make it so remarkably far.

But as the backlash against his Ohio comments demonstrates, the party’s patience with Sanders is wearing thin.

With today’s dominant Democrats favoring hawkish foreign policy and the entitlements of Wall Street, Sanders is seen as a Trojan horse. Cries of “get out,” already sounding in some Democratic quarters, will become increasingly fervid, notwithstanding Sanders’s years of support for Democratic causes and his pledge to endorse the Party’s eventual nominee.

By running as a Democrat, Sanders declined to become a complete political masochist, and he avoided exposing his campaign to immediate annihilation by partisan hacks. Because if he had run as an independent, he would have faced only one question daily in the media, as I did: “Do you see yourself as a spoiler?”

The implication being, of course, that he had no chance of winning. His popular agenda would have been totally ignored by a horse-race-obsessed mass media, which would have latched on instead to a narrative in which Sanders was unfairly hurting Hillary Clinton’s chances against whichever Republican wound up with the other major-party nomination, as if any Democrat is automatically entitled to the votes of progressives.

Knowing that this is the fate of most independent candidates, as he put it simply in Ohio, Sanders made the right choice to campaign as a Democrat. Should he win the nomination, he will have no ballot-access obstacles to overcome in the fall.

He gets to participate in televised primary debates, widely covered and commented on by the mainstream media. His scandal-free record and appealing message have resonated among younger Democratic and independent voters who are the future of progressive politics.

A loyal base that believes he has a viable chance to win has allowed him to smash through the ritual of catering to fat-cat donors and super PACs to amass a highly credible campaign treasury.

Collecting nearly $150 million so far at an average donation of $27 is already a historic breakthrough for future honest candidates to emulate. In the longer run, proving that outsiders to cash-register politics can compete in the same manner may be one of the two most important legacies of the Sanders campaign.

The other is that Sanders has demonstrated the relative weakness of the corporate Democrats and their major loss of trust among the people, especially the young.

“It’s sad and ironic how undemocratic the party has become,” says Bill Curry, a former White House counselor on domestic policy to President Bill Clinton and now a writer for Salon. He compares the party to “a closely held PAC used mostly to advance the careers of political insiders and the interests of corporate donors.”

I believe that should Clinton overcome Sanders and claim the Democratic nomination, the party will continue to be the champion of war and Wall Street, little changed by the primary competition.

But perhaps after the comparative success of Sanders’s campaign, this state of affairs will invigorate more courageous candidates to follow his lead in challenging establishment, commercialized politics.

A simple Way to Keep Wildlife Away From Crops and domestic animals

 A fence with moving lights

From afar, it’s easy to get furious at the people who go to great lengths to kill innocent animals because they trespassed onto their land. There is no excuse for thoughtlessly murdering an innocent animal; however, in places where wild animals pose a threat to people’s crops livelihood’s, things aren’t always so cut and dry. In Kenya, lions are commonly targeted for the threat that they pose to livestock. Considering that the African lion population is highly endangered, many are working to reconcile human-wildlife conflict in a way that is mutually beneficial to people and animals.

Luckily, some people are coming up with ingenious solutions to this frustrating reality. One young man from Kenya, Richard Tuerre, came up with a brilliant idea to protect his land while simultaneously protecting endangered wildlife.

One morning, Richard discovered his family’s bull had been eaten by lions during the night.

Richard was saddened, but also recognized how many lions are also killed as a result of farmers and Maasi (Massaya?) warriors protecting their land.  As a “budding electronics whizz-kid,” he knew he had to come up with a solution.

Richard created a fence with moving lights that helps to deter wild animals from his land. These lights ward off wild animals without harming them physically or putting their lives in danger.

Richard’s invention is an amazing example of animals and humans working in harmony to achieve what’s beneficial for both parties.

If you’re as amazed by Richard as we are, share this video and encourage others to learn more! 

Image Source: Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation/Facebook

101 Poetry Night

These are excerpts of a few poems delivered during the sessions

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou – “I know why the Caged Bird Sings

From “Variations on the Word Sleep” by Margaret Atwood:

“I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
and that necessary.”

Art by: Meghan Howland

The two years
You were my lover
Are the two most important pages
In the book of modern love.
All the pages before and after
Were blank.
These pages
Are the lines of the equator
Passing between your lips and mine
They are the measures of time
That are used
To set the clocks of the world.

Nizar Qabbani
One Hundred Love Letters, Number 14's photo.

If you ever wake up forgetting,
I’ll let you eat
the sun whole; I’ll
turn myself into
a mirror
so you can see
all the light
that cracks out of

A.Y. // a promise for the morning

Art by: Eugenia Loli

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.

Gibran Khalil Gibran

Become controversy.
Become the noise.
Cut through the politeness
of normalcy.

They demand that
you blend into the wall,
but darling,
you have always been
the masterpiece upon it.
Noor Shirazie

Art by: Weekend Hashtag Project

“Addiction is tricky.

For example: a man who quit smoking for 11 years spent 15 seconds in an elevator with a man smoking a cigarette. He gave in.

What I’m trying to say is I think I love you again.”

Sculpture by David Altmejd

By Nayyirah Waheed's photo.

Meet our guest poet for March’s poetry night!

Originally from Ras el Maten- Lebanon, Jana Bou Reslan is a doctoral candidate of Leadership in Higher Education at Saint Louis University, Missouri (May 2016).

She has been an instructor of the English Language and Education at several private universities in Lebanon.

She is the founder of, an interdisciplinary project that advocates freedom of expression through retreats in nature, poetry workshops, and the website:

The project idea was first presented in TEDxBeirut 2012. Jana is currently the chairperson of English and Translation Department at AUST.

After earning her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education with Minors in Arabic and English languages, as well as an MBA from AUB & LAU, she has worked as an elementary and middle school English teacher for 5 years before turning into research and teaching at universities in 2010.

She will be joining us to share her experiences in the literary world, and perform poetry in both Arabic and English. Be sure not to miss it!


Female Genius Changes the World, One Big Idea at a Time

This Team of Female Astronomers Revolutionized Our Understanding of Stars

This video is part of a series on female genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y’s 7 Days of Genius Festival.

The most fundamental knowledge we have of stars comes from a team of Harvard astronomers working at the turn of the 19th century. This team, known as the “Harvard computers” for their ambitious calculations, was composed entirely of females.

As astronomer Anna Frebel explains, male researchers were interested in galaxies — the day’s hot topic. As a result, women pioneered the field of stellar research. Their methods of cataloging stars and determining their chemical composition are still taught at universities today.

Anna Frebel
Big Think shared a link.
Big Think is proud to partner with the 92nd Street Y in bringing you this series on female genius as part of the 7 Days of Genius Festival.|By Anna Frebel
“Sometimes you have to learn when Not to be too much of a lady,” says Joy Hirsch. “So if you have to kick a**, just go do it.”
Director of the Brain Function Laboratory at Yale University, Hirsch knows the challenges that women face in professional life. Often valued for more traditional qualities like the ability to teach or mentor, women aren’t always first thought of as leaders;
but of course they are, and always have been. The challenge ahead of us, as Hirsch says, is to “allow ambitious, talented women to contribute as best they can.”
The story of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, begins with a mathematically gifted mother and, as father, the Romantic poet Lord Byron. Notorious for his philandering, Byron contributed the strong poetical streak to his daughter’s worldview.
Lovelace’s interest in poetry, however, was something her mother wanted stamp out, surrounding Lovelace with mathematics at the exclusion of the arts.
But when Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the mechanical engineer behind the first computer, she found an outlet for her creativity, writing the first complete computer algorithm and becoming the world’s first computer programmer, all at the age of twenty-seven.
Some of our most timeless children’s books — The Giving Tree, Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon — are the result of the little-known publisher Ursula Nordstrom. Editor-in-chief of children’s books at Harper & Row through the middle of the 20th century, Nordstrom championed complex, non-commercial stories for children at a time when it was unpopular to do so.
The friendships she built with authors like Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are, helped embolden their talents and bestow their gifts upon children of all ages.
Nellie Bly may be little known but her achievements are truly outsized. She spoke out for women’s rights; carved out a place for women in journalism by feigning insanity, entering a mental institution, and covering what she saw as a reporter; and she beat Jules Verne’s hypothetical record of traveling around the world in 80 days, accomplishing the feat in just 72.
While England’s Charles Darwin studied the foundations of biological science, America’s Maria Mitchell became famous for her celestial discoveries. She was our nation’s first professional female astronomer. Maria Popova explains: “In 1831 when she was still a teenager obsessed with stargazing she heard that the king of Denmark had offered a gold medal valued at 20 ducats, which was a lot of money at the time to the first person to discover a telescopic comet. It took her 16 years to master the science and the craft of observation, but she did become the first person and C1847T1 was known for 100 years Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Molenbeek’s gangster jihadis – BBC News

Molenbeek is a place full of contradictions.

It’s just a few minutes away from the heart of the European Union, but this densely populated district of Brussels has 40% youth unemployment.

It’s been in the spotlight ever since the Paris attacks in November when it was revealed that the ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and three of the other attackers grew up in Molenbeek.

In the poor inner-city areas of Brussels, deprivation, petty crime and radicalisation appear to have gone hand in hand.

The BBC’s Secunder Kermani has been finding out how drinking, smoking cannabis and fighting – combined with resentment towards white Belgian society for its perceived discrimination against Arabs – prepared some young men for a role as fighters in Syria, and terrorists in Europe

Stef Kuypers shared this link
Poverty, petty crime, beer and cannabis – and a deep mistrust of the Belgian authorities – helped prepare ordinary losers in Brussels for a role as jihadis.

How did he manage to stay hidden for so long? And why have so many young people from Molenbeek ended up as jihadists?

Most people in Molenbeek are rather sick of journalists – they resent the way they are portrayed in the media as a “jihadist capital of Europe“.

But one phrase you often hear when foreign journalists attempt a vox pop is that “terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”.

Certainly, many of those who joined IS from the area did not come from particularly religious backgrounds.

Salah Abdeslam and his elder brother Brahim – who blew himself up in the Paris attacks – used to run a cafe in Molenbeek that sold alcohol and was closed down for drug offences.

One friend of the brothers who used to hang out there told me he would regularly see Brahim Abdeslam “watching IS videos, with a joint in one hand, and a beer in another”. He said Brahim would spout off radical statements but that no-one took him seriously.

Another friend showed me a video from a Brussels nightclub of the two Abdeslam brothers on a night out with girls, drinking and dancing – this was February 2015, just months before they started to plan the attacks in Paris.

The network that the Abdeslam brothers had around them – based as much on personal loyalty, disenchantment and petty crime as radical ideology would be key in helping Salah escape after the Paris attacks.

The network was not just in Molenbeek but stretched across the so-called “croissant pauvre” (poor crescent) of Brussels – a semi-circle of deprived inner-city neighbourhoods including Schaerbeek, where Salah had a safe house, and Laeken, where some of those who helped hide him grew up.

While making a documentary for Panorama, I read the transcript of the interrogation of two of Salah Abdeslam’s friends, whom he called on the night of the Paris attacks asking for help.

Hamza Attou and Mohammed Amri tell police Abdeslam said he had had a car accident and needed to be picked up. Attou claims that once they arrived Abdeslam threatened “to blow up the car if we didn’t take him to Brussels”.

But Amri then goes on to describe how the three men drive around Paris for about “the time it took to smoke a joint” before attempting the journey back. According to Attou, they try to drive along smaller, quieter roads – but end up lost and back on the motorway. Then they smoke a further three joints on the drive back to Brussels – they are stopped at three separate police checkpoints but allowed to pass.

At one, according to Attou, a police officer “asked Amri whether he had drunk. Amri said, ‘Yes’… The police officer told Amri it wasn’t good to have drunk, but that wasn’t their priority today.”

Back in Brussels Abdeslam changed his clothes and his appearance. According to Attou, he went to a barber’s where he “got himself shaved, trimmed his hair and shaved a line on his eyebrow”.

He then called another friend and told him to drop him off in another neighbourhood. These three friends were all arrested a few hours later. According to another of the circle, “they are all in jail for nothing – just because they helped Salah without thinking”.

Abdeslam would remain on the run for the next four months before being arrested.

It may be hard to imagine anyone agreeing to help someone involved in an atrocity like the Paris attacks – but it seems Abdeslam was able to draw upon both a network of IS supporters, and also a small network of people who were not necessarily extremists, but who felt a sense of personal loyalty to him – and a mistrust of the Belgian state.

There is certainly a sense of disaffection among many in Molenbeek. I spent an evening on a street corner talking to one young Muslim man who had been accused of attempting to travel to Syria.

He alternated between fixing me with an intense stare, and refusing to make any eye contact – exuding an air of slight volatility. Initially when I told him I wanted to understand why someone would commit an attack like the one in Paris – he told me I should travel to Raqqa, and ask people there. For him Western air strikes against IS were the answer.

But then he changed his mind. It was the fault of domestic conditions. He railed against the Belgian government – against white Belgians, who hated those of Arab descent, he said. And he would repeat “there is no democracy here” – a feeling that you can’t express any view dissenting from the mainstream without being labelled extreme.

French journalist Florence Hartmann jailed by war crimes tribunal

For devoting her life to exposing the war criminals in Bosnia?

The Hague should be put on trial?

The journalist Florence Hartmann, a former correspondent for Le Monde, has been jailed at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the body established to try the criminals she devoted her life to exposing. She was arrested ahead of the verdict handed down to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić.

Andrew Bossone shared a link
Former Le Monde correspondent in Bosnia detained for revealing information about Srebrenica massacre was withheld from international criminal court|By Ed Vulliamy

Hartmann’s lawyer said she was being held in isolation, a situation that will last until at least Tuesday because of the Easter holiday.

In a private phone call from detention she said that she was in the bizarre position of “watching General Ratko Mladić [the accused Bosnian Serb military leader] walking around the yard and associating with other prisoners while I’m locked away in a cage.

The outrageous thing was to see the UN and Dutch police kick away women from Srebrenica and survivors from the camps who were trying to protect me from arrest, after all they’ve been through”.

Hartmann was convicted of contempt of court in 2009 for revealing in a book that the tribunal had withheld crucial information on the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 from the nearby international court of justice. The conviction was later upheld on appeal.

She was originally fined €7,000, but that sentence was later converted to seven days in jail after the tribunal claimed the fine had not been paid. In December 2011, France refused a request to extradite her.

Hartmann was approached by UN police on a grassy area outside the tribunal on Thursday, where survivors of the war in Bosnia and victims’ families had gathered to wait for the verdict on the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić.

The demonstrators attempted to close ranks around her to prevent her being detained, but later police managed to separate her, bring her into the tribunal building and drag her through the lobby as she shouted protests against her treatment.

After working for Le Monde in Bosnia, Hartmann served at the tribunal as spokeswoman for and adviser to its prosecutor’s office.

In her 2007 book, Paix et châtiment (Peace and Punishment), she revealed that documents that proved Serbian complicity in the Srebrenica massacre had been sealed by the tribunal.

Hartmann, who did not reveal the contents of the documents, insisted that those who had survived or were bereaved by the massacre had the right to know of the tribunal’s decision to keep them secret.

Her lawyer, Guénaël Mettraux, described her situation as a disgrace on Friday.

“Florence is in solitary isolation, totally segregated on what is called suicide watch, which in practice means that the light is on 24 hours a day and she is checked on every 15 minutes.

“I filed three motions yesterday [Thursday], one of which sought to have her granted early release no later than two-thirds of her sentence, as has been accorded to war criminals convicted by the courts in The Hague and Rwanda. I’ve asked for the same to be done for a journalist, and this would mean her being released on Tuesday.

But the problem is that there is literally no one at the detention unit who can address my inquiries, and my application will not be addressed until after the Easter break.

I asked to speak to the commanding officer, and they told me he was away, I suppose on holiday. When I asked to speak to someone about conditions of detention, they told me to call back on Tuesday.”

He went on:

“I was also told that my formal application for her to be desegregated would be treated as a prison complaint. While this might help expedite things, I am deeply concerned that this would prevent the public from knowing of the circumstances of her detention. A journalist is being detained in conditions – isolation, segregation, suicide watch – that were supposed to have been created for war criminals. It is incomprehensible.”

Hartmann’s son, Stéphane, said: “She had the visit of the French consul in the Netherlands on Friday – it sounded more like a courtesy visit. Nothing much done except bringing magazines and some chocolate, which she was not able to keep as it was food. Anyway this was a nice gesture to see her, but nothing done.

“Bear in mind that so-called justice takes holidays, therefore even Monday will be off! We are now in the weekend; therefore, my mother will have to rot in jail all this time. But the little justice that we can bring is to share this story.”

The tribunal’s spokesman Nenad Golcevski told the Observer on Sunday that her lawyer’s complaint at the conditions of detention had been “refused by the President”, Theodore Meron. “She is not in solitary confinement, but she is of course separated from the male prisoners”, he said.

Mr Golcevski said that Ms. Hartmann is able to switch off the light in her cell, but her lawyer pointed out that this is seen as a suicide alert, and a warden immediately enters if she does. Asked why the tribunal was detaining a journalist in cells paid for to keep war criminals, Mr Golcevski said: “I am not able to discuss the decisions of the tribunal liberally”.

Andrew Begg, the legal officer for the UN mechanism for international criminal tribunals – the administrative body for the Hague tribunal said Hartmann’s situation was “subject to the rules of detention and I would refer you to the spokesperson”.

At the time of publication, the spokesman for the tribunal had not responded to a request for comment.

There was no reply from the UN press office in New York.

In a statement on its website, the UN mechanism said Hartmann had been arrested on an “outstanding arrest warrant issued in November 2011 by the appeals chamber of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia”.

Additional reporting by Julian Borger




March 2016

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