Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 2016

This paralyzed rat walked  November 26, 2016

I am a neuroscientist with a mixed background in physics and medicine.

My lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology focuses on spinal cord injury, which affects more than 50,000 people around the world every year, with dramatic consequences for affected individuals, whose life literally shatters in a matter of a handful of seconds.

Patsy Z shared this link

Astounding advances in the quest to cure spinal cord injuries:

Grégoire Courtine shows a new method that could help the body learn again to move on its own.|By Grégoire Courtine

0:39 And for me, the Man of Steel, Christopher Reeve, has best raised the awareness on the distress of spinal cord injured people. And this is how I started my own personal journey in this field of research, working with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

0:57 I still remember this decisive moment. It was just at the end of a regular day of work with the foundation. Chris addressed us, the scientists and experts, “You have to be more pragmatic. When leaving your laboratory tomorrow, I want you to stop by the rehabilitation center to watch injured people fighting to take a step, struggling to maintain their trunk. And when you go home, think of what you are going to change in your research on the following day to make their lives better.”

1:33 These words, they stuck with me. This was more than 10 years ago, but ever since, my laboratory has followed the pragmatic approach to recovery after spinal cord injury. And my first step in this direction was to develop a new model of spinal cord injury that would more closely mimic some of the key features of human injury while offering well-controlled experimental conditions.

And for this purpose, we placed two hemisections on opposite sides of the body. They completely interrupt the communication between the brain and the spinal cord, thus leading to complete and permanent paralysis of the leg. But, as observed, after most injuries in humans, there is this intervening gap of intact neural tissue through which recovery can occur. But how to make it happen?

2:24 Well, the classical approach consists of applying intervention that would promote the growth of the severed fiber to the original target. And while this certainly remained the key for a cure, this seemed extraordinarily complicated to me. To reach clinical fruition rapidly, it was obvious: I had to think about the problem differently.

2:51 It turned out that more than 100 years of research on spinal cord physiology, starting with the Nobel Prize Sherrington, had shown that the spinal cord, below most injuries, contained all the necessary and sufficient neural networks to coordinate locomotion, but because input from the brain is interrupted, they are in a nonfunctional state, like kind of dormant. My idea: We awaken this network.

3:18 And at the time, I was a post-doctoral fellow in Los Angeles, after completing my Ph.D. in France, where independent thinking is not necessarily promoted. (Laughter) I was afraid to talk to my new boss, but decided to muster up my courage. I knocked at the door of my wonderful advisor, Reggie Edgerton, to share my new idea.

3:45 He listened to me carefully, and responded with a grin. “Why don’t you try?”

3:52 And I promise to you, this was such an important moment in my career, when I realized that the great leader believed in young people and new ideas.

4:03 And this was the idea: I’m going to use a simplistic metaphor to explain to you this complicated concept. Imagine that the locomotor system is a car. The engine is the spinal cord. The transmission is interrupted. The engine is turned off. How could we re-engage the engine?

First, we have to provide the fuel; 

Second, press the accelerator pedal;

Third, steer the car.

It turned out that there are known neural pathways coming from the brain that play this very function during locomotion.

My idea: Replace this missing input to provide the spinal cord with the kind of intervention that the brain would deliver naturally in order to walk.

4:46 For this, I leveraged 20 years of past research in neuroscience, first to replace the missing fuel with pharmacological agents that prepare the neurons in the spinal cord to fire, and second, to mimic the accelerator pedal with electrical stimulation.

So here imagine an electrode implanted on the back of the spinal cord to deliver painless stimulation. It took many years, but eventually we developed an electrochemical neuroprosthesis that transformed the neural network in the spinal cord from dormant to a highly functional state.

Immediately, the paralyzed rat can stand. As soon as the treadmill belt starts moving, the animal shows coordinated movement of the leg, but without the brain. Here what I call “the spinal brain” cognitively processes sensory information arising from the moving leg and makes decisions as to how to activate the muscle in order to stand, to walk, to run, and even here, while sprinting, instantly stand if the treadmill stops moving.

5:59 This was amazing. I was completely fascinated by this locomotion without the brain, but at the same time so frustrated. This locomotion was completely involuntary. The animal had virtually no control over the legs.

Clearly, the steering system was missing. And it then became obvious from me that we had to move away from the classical rehabilitation paradigm, stepping on a treadmill, and develop conditions that would encourage the brain to begin voluntary control over the leg.

6:36 With this in mind, we developed a completely new robotic system to support the rat in any direction of space. Imagine, this is really cool. So imagine the little 200-gram rat attached at the extremity of this 200-kilo robot, but the rat does not feel the robot. The robot is transparent, just like you would hold a young child during the first insecure steps.

7:05 Let me summarize: The rat received a paralyzing lesion of the spinal cord. The electrochemical neuroprosthesis enabled a highly functional state of the spinal locomotor networks.

The robot provided the safe environment to allow the rat to attempt anything to engage the paralyzed legs. And for motivation, we used what I think is the most powerful pharmacology of Switzerland: fine Swiss chocolate.

7:38 Actually, the first results were very, very, very disappointing. Here is my best physical therapist completely failing to encourage the rat to take a single step, whereas the same rat, five minutes earlier, walked beautifully on the treadmill. We were so frustrated.

8:07 But you know, one of the most essential qualities of a scientist is perseverance. We insisted. We refined our paradigm, and after several months of training, the otherwise paralyzed rat could stand, and whenever she decided, initiated full weight-bearing locomotion to sprint towards the rewards. This is the first recovery ever observed of voluntary leg movement after an experimental lesion of the spinal cord leading to complete and permanent paralysis.

8:49 In fact, not only could the rat initiate and sustain locomotion on the ground, they could even adjust leg movement, for example, to resist gravity in order to climb a staircase. I can promise you this was such an emotional moment in my laboratory. It took us 10 years of hard work to reach this goal.

9:12 But the remaining question was, how? I mean, how is it possible? And here, what we found was completely unexpected. This novel training paradigm encouraged the brain to create new connections, some relay circuits that relay information from the brain past the injury and restore cortical control over the locomotor networks below the injury.

And here, you can see one such example, where we label the fibers coming from the brain in red. This blue neuron is connected with the locomotor center, and what this constellation of synaptic contacts means is that the brain is reconnected with the locomotor center with only one relay neuron.

But the remodeling was not restricted to the lesion area. It occurred throughout the central nervous system, including in the brain stem, where we observed up to 300-percent increase in the density of fibers coming from the brain. We did not aim to repair the spinal cord, yet we were able to promote one of the more extensive remodeling of axonal projections ever observed in the central nervous system of adult mammal after an injury.

10:35 And there is a very important message hidden behind this discovery. They are the result of a young team of very talented people: physical therapists, neurobiologists, neurosurgeons, engineers of all kinds, who have achieved together what would have been impossible by single individuals.

This is truly a trans-disciplinary team. They are working so close to each other that there is horizontal transfer of DNA. We are creating the next generation of M.D.’s and engineers capable of translating discoveries all the way from bench to bedside. And me? I am only the maestro who orchestrated this beautiful symphony.

11:27 Now, I am sure you are all wondering, aren’t you, will this help injured people? Me too, every day. The truth is that we don’t know enough yet. This is certainly not a cure for spinal cord injury, but I begin to believe that this may lead to an intervention to improve recovery and people’s quality of life.

11:57 I would like you all to take a moment and dream with me. Imagine a person just suffered a spinal cord injury. After a few weeks of recovery, we will implant a programmable pump to deliver a personalized pharmacological cocktail directly to the spinal cord.

At the same time, we will implant an electrode array, a sort of second skin covering the area of the spinal cord controlling leg movement, and this array is attached to an electrical pulse generator that delivers stimulations that are tailored to the person’s needs.

This defines a personalized electrochemical neuroprosthesis that will enable locomotion during training with a newly designed supporting system. And my hope is that after several months of training, there may be enough remodeling of residual connection to allow locomotion without the robot, maybe even without pharmacology or stimulation.

My hope here is to be able to create the personalized condition to boost the plasticity of the brain and the spinal cord. And this is a radically new concept that may apply to other neurological disorders, what I termed “personalized neuroprosthetics,” where by sensing and stimulating neural interfaces, I implanted throughout the nervous system, in the brain, in the spinal cord, even in peripheral nerves, based on patient-specific impairments. But not to replace the lost function, no — to help the brain help itself.

13:45 And I hope this enticed your imagination, because I can promise to you this is not a matter of whether this revolution will occur, but when. And remember, we are only as great as our imagination, as big as our dream.

Have you played Bachi, Petanque, Boule, Horse shoe throwing? This is my story

In the past 3 months I joined a club for playing petanque. I had a lot of fun and laughter, and encountered many wonderful young people.

Petanque is a game of throwing two iron balls close to a tiny ball called cochonet that is your target. The closer to come compared to your adversary team, the more likely an expert in hitting your ball away from the cochonet become necessary. The iron balls weight between 650 to 730 g.

The space is between 6 to 10 m long and 3 m wide. Many players get used to throw the cochonet as far as possible, and get fretful when closer to 6 m.

Usually, in competitions, the teams are of 3 members. Otherwise you can form teams of 4 or even two. If teams of 2, then you may used 3 balls.

Very simple game, yet you need plenty of consistent practice to discover your right movement, rhythms and capability to control your throw.

In my hometown, we have 3 summer clubs, one of them is formally registered with ministry of sport and erect a plastic tent for the colder and rainy weather.

We knew how to throw parties after the games. Everyone brought the menu of the day, frying or charcoaling hamburger, onions, potatoes, cheese… with plenty of whiskey and arak.

Many times singing and dancing was all the rage. Practically, everything that Daesh frowned at “publicly”

Once, a player came and was in the mood of playing and found us eating. He got upset and went back murmuring: “They are better off opening a restaurant“.

Slowly but surely, a few players poisoned the game. Some people would Not play with another one, or would Not play unless a certain player is in his team.

Most of the time, players would appoint themselves leader of a team, though they are Not that good.

I made sure to come to every game. Those who appointed themselves leaders of teams were the occasional players. They have no shame.

There are rules and regulations, mainly meant for competitions.

A member of the club considered himself the most expert and laid downs rules and regulations of his own (3ashwa2eyyan), without concerting with anyone.

The worst part, he considered himself above his own rules and interfered in the game. Nobody dared to confront this tiny and wiry person, or even whisper their opinions because the parcel of land belonged to him or his family.

I swallowed a lot of crap in these months for the sake of meeting these young happy people and getting some laughter and spending quality time.

I recall a shocking event during one of outside town competitions.  Two teams of our club were selected to play against one another, and the organizers didn’t care to appoint any impartial arbiter. So the leader of the other teams made a deal with two of my teammate to lose the game at a score of zero, so that they might be advantageously be selected in the quarter final.

I didn’t agree. The more my teammates threw the balls nonchalantly, the more I played better and made winning the game for the other team much harder. All the members of the other team had no choice but to hit my ball: They could afford this strategy since my teammates were Not to play well or approach the cochonet.

Once, they couldn’t hit my ball and instead of scoring for my team, they appointed one of them to handle the scoreboard: They added the point to their score so that we remained Zero.

The irony of this stupid deal is that both teams had already lost the first round and they were no match to the other contending teams.

Apparently, the sense of loyalty has many shades. For me, the only valid loyalty in any team game is for each member to play the best he can. Otherwise, there is no point playing any game.

Let Them Drown

The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.[*]

In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor.

The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated.

Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil?

The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Fascinating explanation of the intersectionality of settler colonialism and environmentalism through the lens of Edward Said.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet.

Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics.

This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century.

And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth.

Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos.

And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads.

It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region.

In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again.

A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations.

A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands.

Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that.

Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’

As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too.

In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.


He was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of exile and homesickness – but Said’s homesickness, he always made clear, was for a home that had been so radically altered that it no longer really existed. His position was complex: he fiercely defended the right to return, but never claimed that home was fixed.

What mattered was the principle of respect for all human rights equally and the need for restorative justice to inform our actions and policies. This perspective is deeply relevant in our time of eroding coastlines, of nations disappearing beneath rising seas, of the coral reefs that sustain entire cultures being bleached white, of a balmy Arctic.

This is because the state of longing for a radically altered homeland – a home that may not even exist any longer – is something that is being rapidly, and tragically, globalised.

In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen – perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the ‘loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history’ – and not in thousands of years from now but as soon as this century. If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists.

Said helps us imagine what that might look like as well. He helped to popularise the Arabic word sumud (‘to stay put, to hold on’): that steadfast refusal to leave one’s land despite the most desperate eviction attempts and even when surrounded by continuous danger.

It’s a word most associated with places like Hebron and Gaza, but it could be applied equally today to residents of coastal Louisiana who have raised their homes up on stilts so that they don’t have to evacuate, or to Pacific Islanders whose slogan is ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting.’ In countries like the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future.

But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law. Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris Agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action: climate sumud.

But this only scratches of the surface of what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’.

And once the other has been firmly established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction. What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything.

We have dangerously warmed our world already, and our governments still refuse to take the actions necessary to halt the trend. There was a time when many had the right to claim ignorance. But for the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, this refusal to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent.

It would have been impossible without Orientalism, without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.


Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills.

As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coal mining – because so-called ‘mountain top removal’ coal mining is cheaper than digging holes underground.

There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills? Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries.

In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of ‘environmental racism’ that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called ‘ecological genocide’. The executions of community leaders, he said, were ‘all for Shell’.

In my country, Canada, the decision to dig up the Alberta tar sands – a particularly heavy form of oil – has required the shredding of treaties with First Nations, treaties signed with the British Crown that guaranteed Indigenous peoples the right to continue to hunt, fish and live traditionally on their ancestral lands.

It required it because these rights are meaningless when the land is desecrated, when the rivers are polluted and the moose and fish are riddled with tumours. And it gets worse: Fort McMurray – the town at the centre of the tar sands boom, where many of the workers live and where much of the money is spent – is currently in an infernal blaze. It’s that hot and that dry. And this has something to do with what is being mined there.

Even without such dramatic events, this kind of resource extraction is a form of violence, because it does so much damage to the land and water that it brings about the end of a way of life, a death of cultures that are inseparable from the land. Severing Indigenous people’s connection to their culture used to be state policy in Canada – imposed through the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where their language and cultural practices were banned, and where physical and sexual abuse were rampant.

A recent truth and reconciliation report called it ‘cultural genocide’. The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation – from land, from culture, from family – is directly linked to the epidemic of despair ravaging so many First Nations communities today. On a single Saturday night in April, in the community of Attawapiskat – population 2000 – 11 people tried to take their own lives.

Meanwhile, DeBeers runs a diamond mine on the community’s traditional territory; like all extractive projects, it had promised hope and opportunity. ‘Why don’t the people just leave?’, the politicians and pundits ask. But many do. And that departure is linked, in part, to the thousands of Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing, often in big cities.

Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists. Every new government comes to power promising a new era of respect for Indigenous rights. They don’t deliver, because Indigenous rights, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, include the right to refuse extractive projects – even when those projects fuel national economic growth.

And that’s a problem because growth is our religion, our way of life. So even Canada’s hunky and charming new prime minister is bound and determined to build new tar sands pipelines, against the express wishes of Indigenous communities who don’t want to risk their water, or participate in the further destabilising of the climate.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species.

Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system.

Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think 7 generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration.

These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’. And they come under very real attack when megaprojects are built, like the Gualcarque hydroelectric dams in Honduras, a project which, among other things, took the life of the land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in March.


Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction, we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Honduras and the Niger Delta and the Alberta tar sands. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels, which is why we have seen the rise of fracking and tar sands extraction in the first place.

This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. It’s something that is becoming less and less possible.

Fracking is threatening some of the most picturesque parts of Britain as the sacrifice zone expands, swallowing up all kinds of places that imagined themselves safe. So this isn’t just about gasping at how ugly the tar sands are. It’s about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. There never was.

There is an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way either. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil.

This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change.

If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP).

In 2003, exactly fifty years later, it was another UK-US co-production – the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reverberations from each intervention continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting.[†] The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called ‘aridity line’, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation.

These meteorological boundaries aren’t fixed: they have fluctuated for various reasons, whether it was Israel’s attempts to ‘green the desert’ pushing them in one direction or cyclical drought expanding the desert in the other. And now, with climate change, intensifying drought can have all kinds of impacts along this line.

Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011.

Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role. The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence’. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’

The red dots on the map above represent some of the areas where strikes have been concentrated. To me this is the most striking attempt yet to visualise the brutal landscape of the climate crisis. All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report.

‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough.

And now certain patterns have become quite clear:

first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.


Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army.

Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe. In selling his wall on the border with Mexico, Donald Trump likes to say: ‘Ask Israel, the wall works.’

Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus.

Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, warns that Australians ‘cannot be misty-eyed about this’ and ‘have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose’. It’s worth bearing Nauru in mind the next time a columnist in a Murdoch paper declares, as Katie Hopkins did last year, that it’s time for Britain ‘to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’

In another bit of symbolism Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves. Tomorrow’s climate refugees have been recruited into service as today’s prison guards.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat.

When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst, whether they are abandoned on the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or whether they are among the 36 million who according to the UN are facing hunger due to drought in Southern and East Africa.


This is an emergency, a present emergency, not a future one, but we aren’t acting like it. The Paris Agreement commits to keeping warming below 2°c. It’s a target that is beyond reckless. When it was unveiled in Copenhagen in 2009, the African delegates called it ‘a death sentence’. The slogan of several low-lying island nations is ‘1.5 to stay alive’. At the last minute, a clause was added to the Paris Agreement that says countries will pursue ‘efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°c’. Not only is this non-binding but it is a lie: we are making no such efforts.

The governments that made this promise are now pushing for more fracking and more tar sands development – which are utterly incompatible with 2°c, let alone 1.5°c. This is happening because the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries in the world think they are going to be OK, that someone else is going to eat the biggest risks, that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep, they will be taken care of.

When they’re wrong things get even uglier. We had a vivid glimpse into that future when the floodwaters rose in England last December and January, inundating 16,000 homes. These communities weren’t only dealing with the wettest December on record.

They were also coping with the fact that the government has waged a relentless attack on the public agencies, and the local councils, that are on the front lines of flood defence. So understandably, there were many who wanted to change the subject away from that failure. Why, they asked, is Britain spending so much money on refugees and foreign aid when it should be taking care of its own? ‘Never mind foreign aid,’ we read in the Daily Mail. ‘What about national aid?’ ‘Why,’ a Telegraph editorial demanded, ‘should British taxpayers continue to pay for flood defences abroad when the money is needed here?’ I don’t know – maybe because Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on Earth? But I digress.

The point is that this could have been a moment to understand that we are all affected by climate change, and must take action together and in solidarity with one another. It wasn’t, because climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter: under our current economic and political model, it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised.

The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo.

Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, wars, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice and against militarism. Indeed the climate crisis – by presenting our species with an existential threat and putting us on a firm and unyielding science-based deadline – might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements, bound together by a belief in the inherent worth and value of all people and united by a rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, whether it applies to peoples or places.

We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionised jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy.

Said died the year Iraq was invaded, living to see its libraries and museums looted, its oil ministry faithfully guarded. Amid these outrages, he found hope in the global anti-war movement, as well as in new forms of grassroots communication opened up by technology; he noted ‘the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet’.

His vision even had a place for tree-huggers. I was reminded of those words recently while I was reading up on England’s floods. Amid all the scapegoating and finger-pointing, I came across a post by a man called Liam Cox. He was upset by the way some in the media were using the disaster to rev up anti-foreigner sentiment, and he said so:

I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, one of the worst affected areas hit by the floods. It’s shit, everything has gotten really wet. However … I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest country in the world or criticised by its residents.

All you morons vomiting your xenophobia … about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question … Am I a decent and honourable human being? Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.

I think that makes for a very fine last word.

Can you be true to yourself?

I’m going to talk to you tonight about coming out of the closet, and not in the traditional sense, not just the gay closet.

I think we all have closets. Your closet may be telling someone you love her for the first time, or telling someone that you’re pregnant, or telling someone you have cancer, or any of the other hard conversations we have throughout our lives.

A closet is a hard conversation, and although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal.

It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.

Mind you the speaker is a female.

Patsy Z shared this link liked this.

“Apologize for what you’ve done, but never apologize for who you are.”|By Ash Beckham

0:51 Several years ago, I was working at the South Side Walnut Cafe, a local diner in town, and during my time there I would go through phases of militant lesbian intensity: not shaving my armpits, quoting Ani DiFranco lyrics as gospel. And depending on the bagginess of my cargo shorts and how recently I had shaved my head, the question would often be sprung on me, usually by a little kid:

1:18 Um, are you a boy or are you a girl?”

And there would be an awkward silence at the table. I’d clench my jaw a little tighter, hold my coffee pot with a little more vengeance. The dad would awkwardly shuffle his newspaper and the mom would shoot a chilling stare at her kid.

But I would say nothing, and I would seethe inside. And it got to the point where every time I walked up to a table that had a kid anywhere between three and 10 years old, I was ready to fight. (Laughter) And that is a terrible feeling. So I promised myself, the next time, I would say something. I would have that hard conversation.

So within a matter of weeks, it happens again.

“Are you a boy or are you a girl?”

Familiar silence, but this time I’m ready, and I am about to go all Women’s Studies 101 on this table. (Laughter) I’ve got my Betty Friedan quotes. I’ve got my Gloria Steinem quotes. I’ve even got this little bit from “Vagina Monologues” I’m going to do.

I take a deep breath and I look down and staring back at me is a four-year-old girl in a pink dress, not a challenge to a feminist duel, just a kid with a question: “Are you a boy or are you a girl?”

I take another deep breath, squat down to next to her, and say, “Hey, I know it’s kind of confusing. My hair is short like a boy’s, and I wear boy’s clothes, but I’m a girl, and you know how sometimes you like to wear a pink dress, and sometimes you like to wear your comfy jammies? Well, I’m more of a comfy jammies kind of girl.”

And this kid looks me dead in the eye, without missing a beat, and says, My favorite pajamas are purple with fish. Can I get a pancake, please?” (Laughter) And that was it. Just, “Oh, okay. You’re a girl. How about that pancake?”

It was the easiest hard conversation I have ever had. And why? Because Pancake Girl and I, we were both real with each other.

like many of us, I’ve lived in a few closets in my life, and yeah, most often, my walls happened to be rainbow. But inside, in the dark, you can’t tell what color the walls are. You just know what it feels like to live in a closet.

So really, my closet is no different than yours or yours or yours. Sure, I’ll give you 100 reasons why coming out of my closet was harder than coming out of yours, but here’s the thing: Hard is not relative.

Hard is hard. Who can tell me that explaining to someone you’ve just declared bankruptcy is harder than telling someone you just cheated on them? Who can tell me that his coming out story is harder than telling your five-year-old you’re getting a divorce?

There is no harder, there is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard. At some point in our lives, we all live in closets, and they may feel safe, or at least safer than what lies on the other side of that door. But I am here to tell you, no matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to live.

4:28 Thanks. (Applause)

4:31 So imagine yourself 20 years ago. Me, I had a ponytail, a strapless dress, and high-heeled shoes. I was not the militant lesbian ready to fight any four-year-old that walked into the cafe. I was frozen by fear, curled up in the corner of my pitch-black closet clutching my gay grenade, and moving one muscle is the scariest thing I have ever done.

My family, my friends, complete strangers — I had spent my entire life trying to not disappoint these people, and now I was turning the world upside down on purpose. I was burning the pages of the script we had all followed for so long, but if you do not throw that grenade, it will kill you.

5:20 One of my most memorable grenade tosses was at my sister’s wedding. (Laughter) It was the first time that many in attendance knew I was gay, so in doing my maid of honor duties, in my black dress and heels, I walked around to tables and finally landed on a table of my parents’ friends, folks that had known me for years. And after a little small talk, one of the women shouted out, “I love Nathan Lane!” And the battle of gay relatability had begun.

5:50 “Ash, have you ever been to the Castro?”

5:52 “Well, yeah, actually, we have friends in San Francisco.”

5:54 “Well, we’ve never been there but we’ve heard it’s fabulous.”

5:57 “Ash, do you know my hairdresser Antonio? He’s really good and he has never talked about a girlfriend.”

6:02 “Ash, what’s your favorite TV show? Our favorite TV show? Favorite: Will & Grace. And you know who we love? Jack. Jack is our favorite.”

6:09 And then one woman, stumped but wanting so desperately to show her support, to let me know she was on my side, she finally blurted out, “Well, sometimes my husband wears pink shirts.” (Laughter)

6:24 And I had a choice in that moment, as all grenade throwers do. I could go back to my girlfriend and my gay-loving table and mock their responses, chastise their unworldliness and their inability to jump through the politically correct gay hoops I had brought with me, or I could empathize with them and realize that that was maybe one of the hardest things they had ever done, that starting and having that conversation was them coming out of their closets.

Sure, it would have been easy to point out where they felt short. It’s a lot harder to meet them where they are and acknowledge the fact that they were trying. And what else can you ask someone to do but try? If you’re going to be real with someone, you gotta be ready for real in return.

So hard conversations are still not my strong suit. Ask anybody I have ever dated. But I’m getting better, and I follow what I like to call the three Pancake Girl principles. Now, please view this through gay-colored lenses, but know what it takes to come out of any closet is essentially the same.

Number one: Be authentic. Take the armor off. Be yourself. That kid in the cafe had no armor, but I was ready for battle. If you want someone to be real with you, they need to know that you bleed too.

Number two: Be direct. Just say it. Rip the Band-Aid off. If you know you are gay, just say it. If you tell your parents you might be gay, they will hold out hope that this will change. Do not give them that sense of false hope. (Laughter)

And number three, and most important Be unapologetic. You are speaking your truth. Never apologize for that. And some folks may have gotten hurt along the way, so sure, apologize for what you’ve done, but never apologize for who you are. And yeah, some folks may be disappointed, but that is on them, not on you.

Those are their expectations of who you are, not yours. That is their story, not yours.

The only story that matters is the one that you want to write. So the next time you find yourself in a pitch-black closet clutching your grenade, know we have all been there before. And you may feel so very alone, but you are not.

And we know it’s hard but we need you out here, no matter what your walls are made of, because I guarantee you there are others peering through the keyholes of their closets looking for the next brave soul to bust a door open, so be that person and show the world that we are bigger than our closets and that a closet is no place for a person to truly live

A farewell to The Washington Post

In October, Walter Pincus dug through 60-plus boxes in the sub-basement of The Washington Post building as the newspaper prepared to move to a new building. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washington Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations.

He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

For more than 40 years I have been lucky enough to be part of The Washington Post.

There are no words that could sum up how grateful I am to have had this opportunity to write about subjects I care deeply about, and for a readership that often responded in ways that showed they too cared, whether they agreed with what I wrote or not.

It was Ben Bradlee who hired me originally in 1966, and three generations of the Graham family plus a group of editors that put up with me, even when what I wrote seemed critical of issues they believed in or individuals they admired.

Years ago, I once walked into Ben’s office to ask for a raise. He listened for a moment — he never gave you his full attention for more than a minute or two — and with his wonderful smile he growled back, “You ought to pay me for all the fun you are having.” Ben was right.

I recognize journalism is changing.

The evolving Washington Post is different from the June 1, 1960 edition when I shared my first Page One byline, before I even was a staff member. But The Post’s role influencing government in Washington and national politics has never been more critical.

More than once I have been told The Post’s front page, along with that of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, is better than a White House memo if you want to reach the president.

Leaving The Post, I have 3 concerns — not about this newspaper, but related to journalism as a whole, the profession which I love.

One is how much more influential the media has grown to become, first with television news shows, then 24-hour cable and now with the Internet and Twitter.

The second is how much better so-called newsmakers have become at influencing what is written and broadcast to the public. In many ways I feel journalistic ventures have become “common carriers,” printing whatever newsmakers say — even if they know them to be untrue or inflammatory — just because the person involved was willing to be quoted and because such stories generate readers, viewers and, these days, hits on the Web.

The third is that the current competitive rush to be first in both breaking news and slick commentary is leaving behind the facts related to the complex issues of our time.

Facts seem to be taking a back seat to arguments and slogans in what’s written and shown. That means the public is left to make up their minds on important subjects by choosing between arguments without knowing much about the facts that may or may not underlie them. (The main reason for the rise of Populism?)

In short, we have been moved further into a PR society and, sadly, public relations has become a key part of government and our politics.

Here are some areas of national security — my focus of attention — where mainstream media should provide more facts.

•The reality of the threat from terrorism: The Islamic State, as with al-Qaeda, al-Shabab and other current terrorist groups, needs to be put in some perspective. After 9/11, a very wise intelligence officer told me in 2002, “We have turned 16 clever al-Qaeda terrorists into a worldwide movement, seemingly more dangerous to Americans than the communist Soviet Union with thousands of nuclear missiles.”

Never at the height of the Cold War did we institute the security actions at home that have been taken and are being contemplated to meet what’s been described as the current terrorist threat.

President Obama put it in perspective during a Dec. 21, National Public Radio interview when he said, “This is not an organization that can destroy the United States . . . But they can hurt us, and they can hurt our people and our families. And so I understand why people are worried. The most damage they can do, though, is if they start changing how we live and what our values are.”

Intervention into the Middle East and Central Asia: The United States is the strongest military power in the world and the American political system the most democratic. That does not mean other countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, with far different histories, cultures and religions, will accept Washington’s advice or direction on their forms of government.

Remember, it took a bloody, four-year U.S. civil war with some 620,000 Americans killed on both sides with another 460,000 wounded to hold this country together. Vietnam should have proved that the American form of government is not easily transferred to other countries.

•Covering the Defense Department means more than what went right or wrong: The Defense Department has a $548 billion core budget for this fiscal year, more than half the discretionary funds in the entire U.S. budget. How that money is used needs coverage. The increase for nuclear weapons, future pay and allowances, including health care for service members and their families, and base closings need examination.

There’s another $59 billion for overseas contingency operations that pays for fighting terrorism, the undeclared war that the American people have not been taxed extra to pay for. They should.

How the Pentagon operates is another area.

Follow the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is taking a serious look at the military’s structure and overlapping activities and even the future role of Joint Combatant Commanders.

I’m not planning to leave these suggestions just for others to pick up when I no longer appear in The Post.

This is not the end of my Fine Print column.

Starting Feb. 2, I will appear weekly on a relatively new national security website, the Cipher Brief. Once I finish writing a book about the U.S. nuclear weapons program, I expect to return to doing the column twice a week.

So this is hardly a goodbye. It is just till we meet again.

How about “Sleeping Movie”?

When you don’t like the story and prefer to take a nap?

What if stories told to adults are too revulsive and bloody?

Sleeping Movie.

L’autre soir nous avions été ma femme et moi , voir un film, “prémonition” et qui traitait d’une fiction tournant autour de l’euthanasie préventive !
Le sujet était tellement improbable , que je m’en suis détaché et me mis à balader mon regard sur les personnes autour de moi .
La raison de leur présence , de notre présence à nous tous dans cette salle , loin d’être obscure vient du fait que les gens aiment les histoires.
Nous aimons qu’on nous raconte des histoires . Tristes, drôles, morbides, horribles, peu importe , pourvu qu’on nous raconte des histoires.
Ce trait comportemental , nous vient de l’enfance.

Qui de nous , n’aimait fermer ses yeux le soir dans son lit sur la voix chaude d’un parent en train de lui conter une histoire .
Voilà ce que nous étions donc dans cette salle . Une foule de grands enfants venus se faire conter une histoire .
Aussitôt , mon imagination vagabonda .

Pourquoi ne pas vivre le concept jusqu’au bout ?
Je me suis mis à imaginer un genre de ” sleeping movie” où des lits et des divans remplaçaient les sièges, lumière tamisée à l’extrême, dans une salle faite de multitude de loges intimes pour une personne ou plusieurs, toutes allongées en tenue de nuit’ avec une lampe de chevet et un bruitage parallèle mais discret simulant un orage au dehors ou un gazouilli d’un soir d’été. Une employée aux gestes feutrés, qui veille sur le bien être de ces pensionnaires d’un soir , leur apportant breuvage, ou cigarette, avec ou sans brin de causette , et à la fin du film, contrairement aux cinémas classiques, on éteint complètement la salle au lieu de la rallumer, et les gens ne se lèvent pas pour rentrer chez eux, mais au contraire, bien emmitouflés dans leurs couvertures, ils restent dormir .

Le lendemain tout sera prévu pour un “fast break” avant d’essaimer chacune et chacun à la rencontre de sa journée…
Dieu que nous aimons les histoires.
Nous passons notre vie à crier notre manque d’enfance.
Quand il n’y a plus assez d’histoires , nous en inventons à la différence près que dans notre monde d’adultes les histoires morbides et l’horreur dérapent, tuent , et deviennent réalité .
Vous n’êtes pas convaincus ?
Consultez vos livres d’Histoire …
( Jamil BERRY )

Out of control? Online shaming spirals

Misused or confused privilege of freedom of expressions?

“Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making of fun of that bubble.”

Are the ideologues winning on social platforms?

In the early days of Twitter, it was like a place of radical de-shaming.

People would admit shameful secrets about themselves, and other people would say, “Oh my God, I’m exactly the same.”

Voiceless people realized that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent.

If a newspaper ran some racist or homophobic column, we realized we could do something about it. We could get them.

We could hit them with a weapon that we understood but they didn’t — a social media shaming.

Advertisers would withdraw their advertising. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them.

This was like the democratization of justice. Hierarchies were being leveled out. We were going to do things better.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

1:01 Soon after that, a disgraced pop science writer called Jonah Lehrer he’d been caught plagiarizing and faking quotes, and he was drenched in shame and regret, he told me. And he had the opportunity to publicly apologize at a foundation lunch.

This was going to be the most important speech of his life. Maybe it would win him some salvation. He knew before he arrived that the foundation was going to be live-streaming his event, but what he didn’t know until he turned up, was that they’d erected a giant screen Twitter feed right next to his head. (Laughter) Another one in a monitor screen in his eye line.

I don’t think the foundation did this because they were monstrous. I think they were clueless: I think this was a unique moment when the beautiful naivety of Twitter was hitting the increasingly horrific reality.

And here were some of the Tweets that were cascading into his eye line, as he was trying to apologize:

 “Jonah Lehrer, boring us into forgiving him.” (Laughter)

And, “Jonah Lehrer has not proven that he is capable of feeling shame.”

That one must have been written by the best psychiatrist ever, to know that about such a tiny figure behind a lectern.

And, “Jonah Lehrer is just a frigging sociopath.”

That last word is a very human thing to do, to dehumanize the people we hurt.

It’s because we want to destroy people but not feel bad about it.

Imagine if this was an actual court, and the accused was in the dark, begging for another chance, and the jury was yelling out, “Bored! Sociopath!”

You know, when we watch courtroom dramas, we tend to identify with the kind-hearted defense attorney, but give us the power, and we become like hanging judges.

Power shifts fast.

We were getting Jonah because he was perceived to have misused his privilege, but Jonah was on the floor then, and we were still kicking, and congratulating ourselves for punching up.

And it began to feel weird and empty when there wasn’t a powerful person who had misused their privilege that we could get.

A day without a shaming began to feel like a day picking fingernails and treading water.

Let me tell you a story.

It’s about a woman called Justine Sacco.

She was a PR woman from New York with 170 Twitter followers, and she’d Tweet little acerbic jokes to them, like this one on a plane from New York to London: [Weird German Dude: You’re in first class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.”

-Inner monologue as inhale BO. Thank god for pharmaceuticals.]

So Justine chuckled to herself, and pressed send, and got no replies, and felt that sad feeling that we all feel when the Internet doesn’t congratulate us for being funny. (Laughter)

Black silence when the Internet doesn’t talk back.

And then she got to Heathrow, and she had a little time to spare before her final leg, so she thought up another funny little acerbic joke:

[Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!]

And she chuckled to herself, pressed send, got on the plane, got no replies, turned off her phone, fell asleep, woke up 11 hours later, turned on her phone while the plane was taxiing on the runway, and straightaway there was a message from somebody that she hadn’t spoken to since high school, that said, “I am so sorry to see what’s happening to you.”

And then another message from a best friend, “You need to call me right now. You are the worldwide number one trending topic on Twitter.” (Laughter)

What had happened is that one of her 170 followers had sent the Tweet to a Gawker journalist, and he retweeted it to his 15,000 followers: [And now, a funny holiday joke from IAC’s PR boss] And then it was like a bolt of lightning.

A few weeks later, I talked to the Gawker journalist. I emailed him and asked him how it felt, and he said, “It felt delicious.” And then he said, “But I’m sure she’s fine.”

But she wasn’t fine, because while she slept, Twitter took control of her life and dismantled it piece by piece.

First there were the philanthropists: [If @JustineSacco’s unfortunate words … bother you, join me in supporting @CARE’s work in Africa.] [In light of … disgusting, racist tweet, I’m donating to @care today]

Then came the beyond horrified: [… no words for that horribly disgusting racist as fuck tweet from Justine Sacco. I am beyond horrified.]

Was anybody on Twitter that night? A few of you.

Did Justine’s joke overwhelm your Twitter feed the way it did mine? It did mine, and I thought what everybody thought that night, which was, “Wow, somebody’s screwed! Somebody’s life is about to get terrible!”

And I sat up in my bed, and I put the pillow behind my head, and then I thought, I’m not entirely sure that joke was intended to be racist.

Maybe instead of gleefully flaunting her privilege, she was mocking the gleeful flaunting of privilege.

There’s a comedy tradition of this, like South Park or Colbert or Randy Newman.

Maybe Justine Sacco’s crime was not being as good at it as Randy Newman. In fact, when I met Justine a couple of weeks later in a bar, she was just crushed, and I asked her to explain the joke, and she said, “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making of fun of that bubble.”

You know, another woman on Twitter that night, a New Statesman writer Helen Lewis, she reviewed my book on public shaming and wrote that she Tweeted that night, “I’m not sure that her joke was intended to be racist,” and she said straightaway she got a fury of Tweets saying, “Well, you’re just a privileged bitch, too.” And so to her shame, she wrote, she shut up and watched as Justine’s life got torn apart.

6:56 It started to get darker: [Everyone go report this cunt @JustineSacco] Then came the calls for her to be fired. [Good luck with the job hunt in the new year. #GettingFired] Thousands of people around the world decided it was their duty to get her fired. [@JustineSacco last tweet of your career. #SorryNotSorry Corporations got involved, hoping to sell their products on the back of Justine’s annihilation: [Next time you plan to tweet something stupid before you take off, make sure you are getting on a @Gogo flight!] (Laughter)

A lot of companies were making good money that night.

You know, Justine’s name was normally Googled 40 times a month. That month, between December the 20th and the end of December, her name was Googled 1,220,000 times.

And one Internet economist told me that that meant that Google made somewhere between 120,000 dollars and 468,000 dollars from Justine’s annihilation, whereas those of us doing the actual shaming — we got nothing. (Laughter) We were like unpaid shaming interns for Google. (Laughter)

And then came the trolls: [I’m actually kind of hoping Justine Sacco gets aids? lol] Somebody else on that wrote, Somebody HIV-positive should rape this bitch and then we’ll find out if her skin color protects her from AIDS.”

And that person got a free pass.

Nobody went after that person. We were all so excited about destroying Justine, and our shaming brains are so simple-minded, that we couldn’t also handle destroying somebody who was inappropriately destroying Justine.

Justine was really uniting a lot of disparate groups that night, from philanthropists to “rape the bitch.” [@JustineSacco I hope you get fired! You demented bitch… Just let the world know you’re planning to ride bare back while in Africa.]

Women always have it worse than men.

When a man gets shamed, it’s, “I’m going to get you fired.” When a woman gets shamed, it’s, “I’m going to get you fired and raped and cut out your uterus.”

And then Justine’s employers got involved: [IAC on @JustineSacco tweet: This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.] And that’s when the anger turned to excitement: [All I want for Christmas is to see @JustineSacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox/voicemail. #fired] [Oh man, @justinesacco is going to have the most painful phone-turning-on moment ever when her plane lands.]

[We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired. In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.] What we had was a delightful narrative arc. We knew something that Justine didn’t. Can you think of anything less judicial than this?

Justine was asleep on a plane and unable to explain herself, and her inability was a huge part of the hilarity. On Twitter that night, we were like toddlers crawling towards a gun. Somebody worked out exactly which plane she was on, so they linked to a flight tracker website. [British Airways Flight 43 On-time – arrives in 1 hour 34 minutes]

A hashtag began trending worldwide: # hasJustineLandedYet? [It is kinda wild to see someone self-destruct without them even being aware of it. #hasJustineLandedYet] [Seriously. I just want to go home to go to bed, but everyone at the bar is SO into #HasJustineLandedYet. Can’t look away. Can’t leave.] [#HasJustineLandedYet may be the best thing to happen to my Friday night.]

[Is no one in Cape Town going to the airport to tweet her arrival? Come on, twitter! I’d like pictures] And guess what? Yes there was. [@JustineSacco HAS in fact landed at Cape Town international. And if you want to know what it looks like to discover that you’ve just been torn to shreds because of a misconstrued liberal joke, not by trolls, but by nice people like us, this is what it looks like: [… She’s decided to wear sunnies as a disguise.]

So why did we do it? I think some people were genuinely upset, but I think for other people, it’s because Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine.

We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.

We wanted to show that we cared about people dying of AIDS in Africa. Our desire to be seen to be compassionate is what led us to commit this profoundly un-compassionate act. As Meghan O’Gieblyn wrote in the Boston Review, “This isn’t social justice. It’s a cathartic alternative.”

For the past three years, I’ve been going around the world meeting people like Justine Sacco — and believe me, there’s a lot of people like Justine Sacco. There’s more every day. And we want to think they’re fine, but they’re not fine. The people I met were mangled.

They talked to me about depression, and anxiety and insomnia and suicidal thoughts. One woman I talked to, who also told a joke that landed badly, she stayed home for a year and a half. Before that, she worked with adults with learning difficulties, and was apparently really good at her job.

11:54 Justine was fired, of course, because social media demanded it. But it was worse than that. She was losing herself. She was waking up in the middle of the night, forgetting who she was. She was got because she was perceived to have misused her privilege. And of course, that’s a much better thing to get people for than the things we used to get people for, like having children out of wedlock.

But the phrase “misuse of privilege” is becoming a free pass to tear apart pretty much anybody we choose to. It’s becoming a devalued term, and it’s making us lose our capacity for empathy and for distinguishing between serious and unserious transgressions.

Justine had 170 Twitter followers, and so to make it work, she had to be fictionalized. Word got around that she was the daughter the mining billionaire Desmond Sacco. [Let us not be fooled by #JustineSacco her father is a SA mining billionaire. She’s not sorry. And neither is her father.] I thought that was true about Justine, until I met her at a bar, and I asked her about her billionaire father, and she said, “My father sells carpets.”

I think back on the early days of Twitter, when people would admit shameful secrets about themselves, and other people would say, “Oh my God, I’m exactly the same.” These days, the hunt is on for people’s shameful secrets. You can lead a good, ethical life, but some bad phraseology in a Tweet can overwhelm it all, become a clue to your secret inner evil.

Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favor humans over ideology, and those people who favor ideology over humans.

I favor humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans.

What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

Let’s not do that.

Bruno Giussani Don’t go away. What strikes me about Justine’s story is also the fact that if you Google her name today, this story covers the first 100 pages of Google results — there is nothing else about her.

In your book, you mention another story of another victim who actually got taken on by a reputation management firm, and by creating blogs and posting nice, innocuous stories about her love for cats and holidays and stuff, managed to get the story off the first couple pages of Google results, but it didn’t last long. A couple of weeks later, they started creeping back up to the top result. Is this a totally lost battle?

Jon Ronson:  I think the very best thing we can do, if you see a kind of unfair or an ambiguous shaming, is to speak up, because I think the worst thing that happened to Justine was that nobody supported her — like, everyone was against her, and that is profoundly traumatizing, to be told by tens of thousands of people that you need to get out.

But if a shaming happens and there’s a babble of voices, like in a democracy, where people are discussing it, I think that’s much less damaging. So I think that’s the way forward, but it’s hard, because if you do stand up for somebody, it’s incredibly unpleasant.

15:34 BG: So let’s talk about your experience, because you stood up by writing this book. By the way, it’s mandatory reading for everybody, okay? You stood up because the book actually puts the spotlight on shamers. And I assume you didn’t only have friendly reactions on Twitter.

15:48 JR: It didn’t go down that well with some people. (Laughter) I mean, you don’t want to just concentrate — because lots of people understood, and were really nice about the book.

But yeah, for 30 years I’ve been writing stories about abuses of power, and when I say the powerful people over there in the military, or in the pharmaceutical industry, everybody applauds me. As soon as I say, “We are the powerful people abusing our power now,” I get people saying, “Well you must be a racist too.”

BG: So the other night — yesterday — we were at dinner, and there were two discussions going on. On one side you were talking with people around the table — and that was a nice, constructive discussion. On the other, every time you turned to your phone, there is this deluge of insults.

JR: Yeah. This happened last night. We had like a TED dinner last night. We were chatting and it was lovely and nice, and I decided to check Twitter. Somebody said, “You are a white supremacist.” And then I went back and had a nice conversation with somebody, and then I went back to Twitter, somebody said my very existence made the world a worse place.

My friend Adam Curtis says that maybe the Internet is like a John Carpenter movie from the 1980s, when eventually everyone will start screaming at each other and shooting each other, and then eventually everybody would flee to somewhere safer, and I’m starting to think of that as a really nice option.

How’s your experience with dieting? Does it usually work?

You can take control of your health by taking control of your lifestyle, even If you can’t lose weight and keep it off.

Three and a half years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life. As my New Year’s resolution, I gave up dieting, stopped worrying about my weight, and learned to eat mindfully. Now I eat whenever I’m hungry, and I’ve lost 10 pounds.

Why dieting doesn’t usually work . Posted Jan 2014

0:32 This was me at age 13, when I started my first diet. I look at that picture now, and I think, you did not need a diet, you needed a fashion consultant. (Laughter)

But I thought I needed to lose weight, and when I gained it back, of course I blamed myself. And for the next three decades, I was on and off various diets.

No matter what I tried, the weight I’d lost always came back. I’m sure many of you know the feeling.

As a neuroscientist, I wondered, why is this so hard?

Obviously, how much you weigh depends on how much you eat and how much energy you burn. What most people don’t realize is that hunger and energy use are controlled by the brain, mostly without your awareness.

Your brain does a lot of its work behind the scenes, and that is a good thing, because your conscious mind — how do we put this politely? — it’s easily distracted. It’s good that you don’t have to remember to breathe when you get caught up in a movie. You don’t forget how to walk because you’re thinking about what to have for dinner.

Your brain also has its own sense of what you should weigh, no matter what you consciously believe.

This is called your set point, but that’s a misleading term, because it’s actually a range of about 10 or 15 pounds. (would be lovely if set point is just 10 pounds?)

You can use lifestyle choices to move your weight up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it.

The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body weight, there are more than a dozen chemical signals in the brain that tell your body to gain weight, more than another dozen that tell your body to lose it, (Not fair?) and the system works like a thermostat (a thermostat that need to be redesigned?) , responding to signals from the body by adjusting hunger, activity and metabolism, to keep your weight stable as conditions change.

That’s what a thermostat does, right? It keeps the temperature in your house the same as the weather changes outside. Now you can try to change the temperature in your house by opening a window in the winter, but that’s not going to change the setting on the thermostat, which will respond by kicking on the furnace to warm the place back up.

Your brain works exactly the same way, responding to weight loss by using powerful tools to push your body back to what it considers normal. If you lose a lot of weight, your brain reacts as if you were starving, and whether you started out fat or thin, your brain’s response is exactly the same. (overweight people have a brain damage?)

We would love to think that your brain could tell whether you need to lose weight or not, but it can’t. If you do lose a lot of weight, you become hungry, and your muscles burn less energy. Dr. Rudy Leibel of Columbia University has found that people who have lost 10% of their body weight burn 250 to 400 calories less because their metabolism is suppressed. That’s a lot of food.

This means that a successful dieter must eat this much less forever than someone of the same weight who has always been thin.

From an evolutionary perspective, your body’s resistance to weight loss makes sense. (weird evolution)

When food was scarce, our ancestors’ survival depended on conserving energy, and regaining the weight when food was available would have protected them against the next shortage. Over the course of human history, starvation has been a much bigger problem than overeating.

This may explain a very sad fact: Set points can go up, but they rarely go down. (soon, we’ ll all be Fat) 

Now, if your mother ever mentioned that life is not fair, this is the kind of thing she was talking about. (Laughter) Successful dieting doesn’t lower your set point.

Even after you’ve kept the weight off for as long as 7 years, your brain keeps trying to make you gain it back. If that weight loss had been due to a long famine, that would be a sensible response. In our modern world of drive-thru burgers, it’s not working out so well for many of us.

That difference between our ancestral past and our abundant present is the reason that Dr. Yoni Freedhoff of the University of Ottawa would like to take some of his patients back to a time when food was less available, and it’s also the reason that changing the food environment is really going to be the most effective solution to obesity. (move to famine stricken environment)

Sadly, a temporary weight gain can become permanent. If you stay at a high weight for too long, probably a matter of years for most of us, your brain may decide that that’s the new normal.

5:52 Psychologists classify eaters into two groups, those who rely on their hunger and those who try to control their eating through willpower, like most dieters.

Let’s call them intuitive eaters and controlled eaters. The interesting thing is that intuitive eaters are less likely to be overweight, and they spend less time thinking about food.

Controlled eaters are more vulnerable to overeating in response to advertising, super-sizing, and the all-you-can-eat buffet. And a small indulgence, like eating one scoop of ice cream, is more likely to lead to a food binge in controlled eaters.

Children are especially vulnerable to this cycle of dieting and then binging. Several long-term studies have shown that girls who diet in their early teenage years are three times more likely to become overweight 5 years later, even if they started at a normal weight, and all of these studies found that the same factors that predicted weight gain also predicted the development of eating disorders.

The other factor is being teased by family members about their weight. So don’t do that. (Laughter)

I left almost all my graphs at home, but I couldn’t resist throwing in just this one, because I’m a geek, and that’s how I roll. (Laughter) This is a study that looked at the risk of death over a 14-year period based on 4 healthy habits: eating enough fruits and vegetables, exercise three times a week, not smoking, and drinking in moderation.

Let’s start by looking at the normal weight people in the study.

The height of the bars is the risk of death, and those zero, one, two, three, four numbers on the horizontal axis are the number of those healthy habits that a given person had. And as you’d expect, the healthier the lifestyle, the less likely people were to die during the study.

Now let’s look at what happens in overweight people. The ones that had no healthy habits had a higher risk of death.

Adding just one healthy habit pulls overweight people back into the normal range.

For obese people with no healthy habits, the risk is very high, 7 times higher than the healthiest groups in the study. But a healthy lifestyle helps obese people too. In fact, if you look only at the group with all four healthy habits, you can see that weight makes very little difference.

You can take control of your health by taking control of your lifestyle, even If you can’t lose weight and keep it off.

Diets don’t have very much reliability. Five years after a diet, most people have regained the weight. Forty percent of them have gained even more. If you think about this, the typical outcome of dieting is that you’re more likely to gain weight in the long run than to lose it.

If I’ve convinced you that dieting might be a problem, the next question is, what do you do about it? And my answer, in a word, is mindfulness.

I’m not saying you need to learn to meditate or take up yoga. I’m talking about mindful eating: learning to understand your body’s signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, because a lot of weight gain boils down to eating when you’re not hungry.

How do you do it? Give yourself permission to eat as much as you want, and then work on figuring out what makes your body feel good.

Sit down to regular meals without distractions. Think about how your body feels when you start to eat and when you stop, and let your hunger decide when you should be done.

It took about a year for me to learn this, but it’s really been worth it. I am so much more relaxed around food than I have ever been in my life. I often don’t think about it. I forget we have chocolate in the house.

It’s like aliens have taken over my brain. It’s just completely different. I should say that this approach to eating probably won’t make you lose weight unless you often eat when you’re not hungry, but doctors don’t know of any approach that makes significant weight loss in a lot of people, and that is why a lot of people are now focusing on preventing weight gain instead of promoting weight loss. Let’s face it: If diets worked, we’d all be thin already. (Laughter)

Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results? Diets may seem harmless, but they actually do a lot of collateral damage. At worst, they ruin lives: Weight obsession leads to eating disorders, especially in young kids.

In the U.S., we have 80% of 10-year-old girls say they’ve been on a diet. Our daughters have learned to measure their worth by the wrong scale.

Even at its best, dieting is a waste of time and energy.

It takes willpower which you could be using to help your kids with their homework or to finish that important work project, and because willpower is limited, any strategy that relies on its consistent application is pretty much guaranteed to eventually fail you when your attention moves on to something else.

11:54 Let me leave you with one last thought. What if we told all those dieting girls that it’s okay to eat when they’re hungry? What if we taught them to work with their appetite instead of fearing it?

I think most of them would be happier and healthier, and as adults, many of them would probably be thinner. I wish someone had told me that back when I was 13.

Origin of English Language? Turkey and Near East region?

English language ‘originated in Turkey’

Image caption Words in common use betray the language of our past

Modern Indo-European languages – which include English – originated in Turkey about 9,000 years ago, researchers say. (The eastern seashore region of the Mediterranean sea)

Their findings differ from conventional theory that these languages originated 5,000 years ago in south-west Russia.

The New Zealand researchers used methods developed to study virus epidemics to create family trees of ancient and modern Indo-European tongues to pinpoint where and when the language family first arose.

Their study is reported in Science.

A language family is a group of languages that arose from a common ancestor, known as the proto-language.

Linguists identify these families by trawling through modern languages for words of similar sound that often describe the same thing, like water and wasser (German). These shared words – or cognates – represent our language inheritance.

According to the Ethnologue database, more than 100 language families exist.

The Indo-European family is one of the largest families – more than 400 languages spoken in at least 60 countries – and its origins are unclear.

The Steppes, or Kurgan, theorists hold that the proto-language originated in the Steppes of Russia, north of the Caspian Sea, about 5,000 years ago.

The Anatolia hypothesis – first proposed in the late 1980s by Prof Colin Renfrew (now Lord Renfrew) – suggests an origin in the Anatolian region of Turkey about 3,000 years earlier.

To determine which competing theory was the most likely, Dr Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland and his team interrogated language evolution using phylogenetic analyses – more usually used to trace virus epidemics.

Fundamentals of life

Phylogenetics reveals relatedness by assessing how much of the information stored in DNA is shared between organisms.

Influenza virus
Image caption The researchers used methods developed for tracing virus epidemics

Chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor and share about 98% of their DNA. Because of this shared ancestry, they cluster together on phylogenetic – or family – trees.

Like DNA, language is passed down, generation to generation.

Although language changes and evolves, some linguists have argued that cognates describing the fundamentals of life – kinship (mother, father), body parts (eye, hand), the natural world (fire, water) and basic verbs (to walk, to run) – resist change.

These conserved cognates are strongly linked to the proto-language of old.

Dr Atkinson and his team built a database containing 207 cognate words present in 103 Indo‐European languages, which included 20 ancient tongues such as Latin and Greek.

Using phylogenetic analysis, they were able to reconstruct the evolutionary relatedness of these modern and ancient languages – the more words that are cognate, the more similar the languages are and the closer they group on the tree.

The trees could also predict when and where the ancestral language originated.

Looking back into the depths of the tree, Dr Atkinson and his colleagues were able to confirm the Anatolian origin.

To test if the alternative hypothesis – of a Russian origin several thousand years later – was possible, the team used competing models of evolution to pitch Steppes and Anatolian theory against each other.

Image caption Cognate words represent our language inheritance

In repeated tests, the Anatolian theory always came out on top.

Commenting on the paper, Prof Mark Pagel, a Fellow of the Royal Society from the University of Reading who was involved in earlier published phylogenetic studies, said: “This is a superb application of methods taken from evolutionary biology to understand a problem in cultural evolution – the origin and expansion of the Indo-European languages.

“This paper conclusively shows that the Indo-European languages are at least 8-9,500 years old, and arose, as has long been speculated, in the Anatolian region of what is modern-day Turkey and spread outwards from there.”

Commenting on the inclusion of ancient languages in the analyses, he added: “The use of a number of known calibration points from ‘fossil’ languages greatly strengthens the conclusions.”

However, the findings have not found universal acceptance.

Prof Petri Kallio from the University of Helsinki suggests that several cognate words describing technological inventions – such as the wheel – are evident across different languages.

He argues that the Indo-European proto-language diversified after the invention of the wheel, about 5,000 years ago.

On the phylogenetic methods used to date the proto-language, Prof Kallio added: “So why do I still remain sceptical? Unlike archaeological radiocarbon dating based on the fixed rate of decay of the carbon-14 isotope, there is simply no fixed rate of decay of basic vocabulary, which would allow us to date ancestral proto-languages.

“Instead of the quantity of the words, therefore, the trained Indo-Europeanists concentrate on the quality of the words.” (Like what words can be classified as quality? Eating, running, killing, war, stealing, raping, fruits, grains, earth, land, mountains, rivers, water…?)

Prof Pagel is less convinced by the counter-argument: “Compared to the Kurgan hypothesis, this new analysis shows the Anatolian hypothesis as the clear winner.”

Note: Civilizations centered around major rivers and estuaries.The meeting spots for all the people fleeing catastrophic events and shortage of food.

The Euphrates and Tiger Rivers, along of where they flow in Syria and Iraq, have been centers of great earlier civilizations. The hot bed of civilization where all the migrant people lived and developed for many thousands of years.

It is from these centers that civilizations spread to other regions and constituted this unified DNA for mankind.

Turkey was the transit stage toward Europe and the Caucasus.

How I became an activist?

How a youth gets engaged in changing rotten systems?

How a youth joins rallying movements?

Africa is a complex continent full of contradictions?

What’s image got to do with it? And I must say, I think Emeka is trying to send a lot of subliminal messages, because I’m going to keep harping on some of the issues that have come up.

But I’m going to try and do something different, and try and just close the loop with some of my personal stories, and try and put a face to a lot of the issues that we’ve been talking about. So, Africa is a complex continent full of contradictions, as you can see. We’re not the only ones.

0:47 And you know, it’s amazing. I mean, we need a whole conference just devoted to telling the good stories about the continent. Just think about that, you know? And this is typically what we’ve been talking about, the role that the media plays in focusing just on the negative stuff.

Why is that a problem? A typical disaster story: disease, corruption, poverty.

And some of you might be standing here thinking, saying, “OK, you know, Ory, you’re Harvard-educated, and all you privileged people come here, saying, ‘Forget the poor people. Let’s focus on business and the markets, and whatever.’ “ And they’re all, “There’s the 80 percent of Africans who really need help.”

And I want to tell you that this is my story, OK? And it’s the story of many of the Africans who are here. We start with poverty.

I didn’t grow up in the slums or anything that dire, but I know what it is to grow up without having money, or being able to support family.

Euvin was talking about bellwether signs. The bellwether for whether our family was broke or not was breakfast. You know, when things were good, we had eggs and sausages. When things were bad, we had porridge.

And like many African families, my parents could never save because they supported siblings, cousins, you know, their parents, and things were always dicey.

when I was born, they realized they had a pretty smart kid, and they didn’t want me to go to the neighborhood school, which was free.

They adopted a very interesting approach to education, which was they were going to take me to a school that they can barely afford. So they took me to a private, Catholic, elementary school, which set the foundation for what ended up being my career. And what happened was, because they could afford it sometimes, sometimes not, I got kicked out pretty much every term.

You know, someone would come in with a list of the people who haven’t paid school fees, and when they started getting pretty strict, you had to leave, until your school fees could be paid. And I remember thinking, I mean, why don’t these guys just take me to a cheap school? Because you know, as a kid you’re embarrassed and you’re sensitive, and everyone knows you guys don’t have money. But they kept at it, and I now understand why they did what they did.

3:18 They talk about corruption.

In Kenya, we have an entrance exam to go into high school. And there’s national schools, which are like the best schools, and provincial schools. My dream school at that time was Kenya High School, a national school. I missed the cutoff by one point. And I was so disappointed, and I was like, “Oh my God, you know, what am I going to do?” And my father said, “OK, listen. Let’s go and try and talk to the headmistress. You know, it’s just one point. I mean, maybe she’ll let you in if that slot’s still there.”

So we went to the school, and because we were nobodies, and because we didn’t have privilege, and because my father didn’t have the right last name, he was treated like dirt. And I sat and listened to the headmistress talk to him, saying, you know, who do you think you are? And, you know, you must be joking if you think you can get a slot. And I had gone to school with other girls, who were kids of politicians, and who had done much, much worse than I did, and they had slots there.

And there’s nothing worse than seeing your parent being humiliated in front of you, you know? And we left, and I swore to myself, and I was like, “I’m never, ever going to have to beg for anything in my life.”

They called me two weeks later, they’re like, oh, yeah, you can come now. And I told them to stuff it.

Final story, and I sort of have to speak quickly. Disease.

My father, who I’ve been talking about, died of AIDS in 1999. He never told anyone that he had AIDS, his fear of the stigma was so strong. And I’m pretty much the one who figured it out, because I was a nerd. And I was in the States at the time, and they called me. He was very sick, the first time he got sick. And he had Cryptococcal meningitis.

And so I went on to Google, Cryptococcal meningitis, you know. Because of doctor-patient privilege, they couldn’t really tell us what was going on. But they were like, you know, this is a long-term thing. And when I went online and looked at the infectious — read about the disease, I pretty much realized what was going on.

The first time he got sick, he recovered. But what happened was that he had to be on medication that, at that time — Diflucan, which in the States is used for yeast infections — cost 30 dollars a pill. He had to be on that pill for the rest of his life.

You know, so money ran out. He got sick again. And up until that time, he had a friend who used to travel to India, and he used to import, bring him, could get him a generic version of it. And that kept him going. But the money ran out. He got sick again. He got sick on a Friday. At that time, there was only one bank that had ATMs in Kenya, and we could not get cash.

The family couldn’t get cash for him to start the treatment until Monday. The hospital put him on a water drip for three days. And finally, we figured, well, OK, we’d better just try and take him to a public hospital. At least he’ll get treated while we try to figure out the money situation. And he died when the ambulance was coming to the hospital to take him.

6:45 And, you know, now, imagine if — and I could go on and on — imagine if this is all you know about me.

How would you look at me? With pity, you know. Sadness. And this is how you look at Africa.

This is the damage it causes.

You don’t see the other side of me. You don’t see the blogger, you don’t see the Harvard-educated lawyer, the vibrant person, you know?

And I just wanted to personalize that. Because we talk about it in big terms, and you wonder so what? But it’s damaging.

And I’m not unique, right? Imagine if all you knew about William was the fact that he grew up in a poor village. And you didn’t know about the windmill,? And I was just moved. I was actually crying during his presentation. He was like, I try and I make. I was like Nike should hire him, you know, “Just do it!”

7:47 And this is, again, the point I’m trying to make. When you focus just on the disasters  we’re ignoring the potential.

So, what is to be done?

First of all, Africans, we need to get better at telling our stories. We heard about that yesterday. We had some of them this morning. And this is an example, and blogging is one way of doing that.

Afrigator is an aggregator of African blogs that was developed in South Africa. So we need to start getting better.

If no one else will tell our stories, let’s do it. And going back to the point I was trying to make, this is the Swahili Wikipedia.

Swahili is spoken by about 50 million people in East Africa. It only has five contributors. Four of them are white males — non-native speakers. The other person is — Ndesanjo, if you’re here, stand up — is a Tanzanian, [the] first Swahili blogger. He’s the only African who’s contributing to this.

 We can’t whine and complain the West is doing this. What are we doing? Where are the rest of the Swahili speakers?

Why are we not generating our own content? You know, it’s not enough to complain. We need to act.

Reuters now integrates African blogs into their coverage of Africa. So, that’s a start, and we’ve heard of all their other initiatives.

The cheetah generation. The aid approach, you know, is flawed. And after all the hoopla of Live 8, we’re still not anywhere in the picture. No, you’re not.

9:46 But the point I’m trying to make, though, is that it’s not enough for us to criticize.

And for those of you in the diaspora who are struggling with where should I be, should I move back, should I stay? You know, just jump.

The continent needs you. And I can’t emphasize that enough. I walked away from a job with one of the top firms in D.C., Covington and Burling, six figures.

With two paychecks, or three paychecks, I could solve a lot of my family’s problems. But I walked away from that, because my passion was here, and because I wanted to do things that were fulfilling. And because I’m needed here? I probably can win a prize for the most ways to use a Harvard Law School degree because of all the things I’m doing.

One is because I’m pretty aggressive, and I try and find, you know, opportunities. But there is such a need, you know?

I’m a corporate lawyer most of the time for an organization called Enablis that supports entrepreneurs in South Africa. We’re now moving into East Africa. And we give them business development services, as well as financing loan and equity.

I’ve also set up a project in Kenya, and what we do is we track the performance of Kenyan MPs. My partner, M, who’s a tech guru, hacked WordPress. It costs us, like, 20 dollars a month just for hosting. Everything else on there is a labor of love.

We’ve manually entered all the data there. And you can get profiles of each MP, questions they’ve asked in parliament. We have a comment function, where people can ask their MPs questions. There are some MPs who participate, and come back and ask.

we started this because we were tired of complaining about our politicians. You know, I believe that accountability stems from demand. You’re not just going to be accountable out of the goodness of your heart. And we as Africans need to start challenging our leaders.

What are they doing? they’re not going to change just out of nowhere. So we need new policies, we need — where’s that coming from, you know? Another thing is that these leaders are a reflection of our society. We talk about African governments like they’ve been dropped from Mars, you know?

They come from us. And what is it about our society that is generating leaders that we don’t like? And how can we change that? So Mzalendo was one small way we thought we could start inspiring people to start holding their leaders accountable. Where do we go from here? I believe in the power of ideas. I believe in the power of sharing knowledge.

And I’d ask all of you, when you leave here, please just share, and keep the ideas that you’ve gotten out of here going, because it can make a difference. The other thing I want to urge you to do is take an interest in the individual. I’ve had lots of conversations about things I think need to be happening in Africa. People are like, “OK, if you don’t do aid, I’m a bleeding heart liberal, what can I do?”

And when I talk about my ideas, they’re like, “BBut it’s not scalable, you know. Give me something I can do with Paypal.” It’s not that easy, you know? And sometimes just taking an interest in the individual, in the fellows you’ve met, and the businesspeople you’ve met, it can make a huge difference, especially in Africa, because usually the individual in Africa carries a lot of people behind them. Practically. I mean, when I was a first-year student in law school, my mom’s business had collapsed, so I was supporting her. My sister was struggling to get through undergrad. I was helping her pay her tuition. My cousin ran out of school fees, and she’s really smart. I was paying her school fees.

 A cousin of mine died of AIDS, left an orphan, so we said, well, what are we going to do with her? You know, she’s now my baby sister. And because of the opportunities that were afforded to me, I am able to lift all those people. So, don’t underestimate that. An example. This man changed my life. He’s a professor. He’s now at Vanderbilt. He’s an undergrad professor, Mitchell Seligson. And because of him, I got into Harvard Law School, because he took an interest.

I was taking a class of his, and he was just like, this is an overeager student, which we don’t normally get in the United States, because everyone else is cynical and jaded. He called me to his office and said, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I said, “I want to be a lawyer.” And he was like, “Why? You know, we don’t need another lawyer in the United States.” And he tried to talk me out of it, but it was like, “OK, I know nothing about applying to law school, I’m poli-sci Ph.D. But, you know, let’s figure out what I need you to do, what I need to do to help you out.”

14:21 It was like, “Where do you want to go?” And to me at that time university — I was at University of Pitts for undergrad, and that was like heaven, OK, because compared to what could have been in Kenya. So I’m like, “Yeah, I’m just applying to Pitt for law school.” He was like, “Why? You know, you’re smart, you have all these things going for you.” And I’m like, “Because I’m here and it’s cheap, and you know, I kind of like Pittsburgh.”

Like, that’s the dumbest reason I’ve ever heard for applying to law school. And, you know, so he took me under his wing, and he encouraged me. And he said, “Look, you can get into Harvard, you’re that good, OK? And if they don’t admit you, they’re the ones who are messed up.” And he built me up, you know? And this is just an illustration.

15:02 You can meet other individuals here. We just need a push. That’s all I needed was a push to go to the next level.

Basically, I want to end with my vision for Africa. A gentleman spoke yesterday about the indignity of us having to leave the continent so that we can fulfill our potential.

my vision is that my daughter, and any other African child being born today, can be whoever they want to be here, without having to leave. And they can have the possibility of transcending the circumstances under which they were born.

That’s one thing you Americans take for granted. That you can grow up, you know, not so good circumstances, and you can move. Just because you are born in rural Arkansas, whatever, that doesn’t define who you are.

For most Africans today, where you live, or where you were born, and the circumstances under which you were born, determine the rest of your life. I would like to see that change, and the change starts with us. And as Africans, we need to take responsibility for our continent.

Patsy Z shared

“[…] Accountability stems from demand. You’re not just going to be accountable out of the goodness of your heart.

as Africans, we need to start challenging our leaders. What are they doing? They’re not going to change just out of nowhere.
So we need new policies — where’s that coming from, you know?

Another thing is that these leaders are a reflection of our society. We talk about African governments like they’ve been dropped from Mars; they come from us.

And what is it about our society that is generating leaders that we don’t like?
And how can we change that?”

how she came to do her heroic work reporting on the doings of Kenya’s parliament.|By Ory Okolloh




November 2016

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