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Archive for October, 2007

Brecht-Zitate (Quotes from Bertolt Brecht)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Here are some quotes from Brecht which illustrate some of the points I made in previous posts (The Integrity of Science; The Political Responsibility of Scientists; On Aggression; The God Delusion, etc.). Translations by me if not indicated otherwise.

“Wer die Wahrheit nicht weiss, der ist bloss ein Dummkopf. Aber wer sie weiss und sie eine Lüge nennt, der ist ein Verbrecher.” (If you don’t know the truth, you are just stupid. If you know the truth and call it a lie, you are a criminal)

“Bankraub: eine Initiative von Dilettanten. Wahre Profis gründen eine Bank.” (Dilettantes rob a bank, professionals found one)

“Die Schriftsteller können nicht so schnell schreiben, wie die Regierungen Kriege machen; denn das Schreiben verlangt Denkarbeit.” (Writers cannot write as fast as governments make wars: writing requires thinking). — Also: “War is like love, it always finds a way.” (transl. Eric Bentley from Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder: Mother Courage and her children)

Finally: we are going on an overseas trip tomorrow: the weather is not good, I therefore conclude with this:

“No need to pray to God when there are storms in the sky, but make sure you are insured.” (from “Die Mutter”, “The Mother”)

The Political Responsibility of Scientists

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

In a previous post I have discussed the integrity of science and attempts by governments to suppress or misrepresent scientific findings, for example those related to climate change that do not fit their political agenda.

In history, infamous examples of scientists who have allowed themselves to be misused are Timofeev Lysenko and associates in the Soviet Union, who made teaching Mendelian genetics a criminal offence, because it supposedly contradicted communist doctrine, and the “deutsche Physik” of the Nobel Prize winners Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark, who acted from sheer and undiluted anti-Semitism, declaring the physics of Einstein and others (among them, at least for a while, so-called “White Jews” like Werner Heisenberg) as “Jewish” and not conforming to the “German spirit”, of course utter rubbish. More recent examples include, in my opinion, all those in several countries who permit that their findings on climate change are suppressed or misrepresented. Considering what is at stake, these latter cases (and there are many documented ones) are at least as dangerous as the examples further back in history.

The problem of the moral responsibility of scientists is discussed in two brilliant plays, one by the great German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, the other by the German-Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürenmatt:

Bertolt Brecht: Leben des Galilei (Life of Galilei): Galileo Galilei, in the play (which does not claim to be historically accurate), gives in to the Inquisition because, among other things, he loves the good life. He thus compromises the integrity of science and “gives away” a unique historical opportunity to safeguard the moral responsibility of scientists.

Friedrich Dürenmatt : Die Physiker (The physicists): a “grotesque” comedy, in which three inmates of a mental asylum pretend to be Einstein, Newton and Möbius, the latter the inventor of the “world formula” which, if misused, can lead to the destruction of the world. “Einstein” and “Newton” are, in fact, not mad at all but want to get hold of Möbius’ formula. Möbius is not mad either, he uses the asylum to hide his formula. When Möbius realizes what “Einstein” and “Newton” are after, he destroys his work, which, however, has been copied by the director of the asylum, the only person (a woman), who really is mad and wants to use the formula to rule the world, because King Salomon has instructed her to do so.

If you don’t have the chance to see the plays on stage, read them! If you are a scientist, make sure you have the backbone required to stand up for the truth, and not only in your narrow field of expertise! And what about the idea of including a course on scientific integrity and responsibility in science curricula?

Ein Querschnitt durch die Geschichte. A Cross-section through History

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Abstract: an illustration of the “instinct” at the root of history, the instinct to aggression. The instinct remains the same, but its expressions vary, as shown by the list of particularly bloody excesses. We will extinguish each other fairly soon, if we don’t change our habits.

Die Illustration ist aus meinem Buch Satire, Politik und Kunst (extracts and review of the book at Satire, Politik und Kunst.) (alle Abbildungen sind urheberrechtlich geschützt, all figures in this blog under copyright protection).

Hier haben wir den vielen Ereignissen der Geschichte zugrunde liegenden “Instinkt”, den Instinkt zur Aggression, zum Todschlag, zum Mord.

nazi.jpg

Nur die Erscheinungsformen änderten sich im Laufe der Geschichte. Einige besonders blutrünstige Beispiele:

1) Die Kreuzzüge
2) Der dreissigjährige Krieg
3) Die Kolonisierung Nord- und Südamerikas
4) Die Kolonisierung Indiens, Afrikas und Australiens
5) Der USA-Filipino Krieg
6) Der erste Weltkrieg
7) Stalins Zwangskollektivisierung
8 ) Hitler und der zweite Weltkrieg
9) Der Korea-Krieg
10) Mao Tse Tungs Herrschaft
11) Der Vietnamkrieg
12) Der zweite Congokrieg
13) Die Unterdückung des Nahen Ostens
14) Fortsetzung von 13………., die gerade ihrem Höhepunkt entgegen geht, wenn wir einen Angriff auf den Iran nicht verhindern.

Man wirft ja gerne mit den Millionen von Opfern um sich, wenn es um die Aufstellung einer Hierarchie des Schreckens geht, aber lassen wir das einmal. Niemand hat eine genaue Ahnung davon, wie hoch die Zahl der Opfer in jedem einzelnen Falle wirklich war. Eins ist aber sicher: die Erde wird enger, die Schreckensmittel effektiver. Wenn wir uns nicht ändern, werden wir uns in naher Zukunft gegenseitig den Garaus machen.

President Ahmadinejad at Columbia and the wider issues.

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Some people were stunned by the introduction of President Ahmadinejad of Iran by the President of Columbia University. Here we have an interpretation by Professor MarkLeVine, Professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Irvine (from Al Jazeera, 3 October) (extracts, bold by me). For the full article click here

“Local papers, such as the Daily News and The New York Post, featured headlines announcing that “The Evil has Landed” and lambasting the “Mad Iran Prez” for his past denials of the Holocaust, refusal to unequivocally renounce a quest for nuclear weapons, and call to have Israel “wiped off the map” (an inaccurate translation of the Persian “bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad,” which is better – but less violently and therefore less usefully – rendered in English as “erased from the page of time” or “fate”). —————–Even Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, introduced him with an unprecedented – and to the minds of many academics, not to mention Iranians, uncouth – verbal attack, accusing him of being little more than a “petty dictator”.

In its critiques of Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia, the mainstream US press focused most of its attention on Ahmadinejad’s tendentious claim that “there are no homosexuals in Iran” (belied by an evening stroll through Tehran’s famous Daneshjoo Park), and his attempt to redefine his position on the Holocaust (it happened, but more research is needed to know its true extent).

Few commentators considered how Ahmadinejad’s words were heard outside of the US media circus. And those who did, such as Timothy Rutton of the LA Times, focused purely on the reaction in the Muslim world, arguing that, as a “totalitarian demagogue”, Ahmadinejad gained legitimacy because of the discourteous treatment by Columbia’s president.

It’s no wonder, then, that almost no one in the American media focused on the substantive claims of Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN.

He mentioned the continued disgraceful figures for infant mortality, schooling and related human development indicators in the developing world. Perhaps wanting to be courteous, Ahmadinejad blamed “certain big powers” for the plight of a large share of humanity – he might have added that according to UN estimates almost half the world lives on less than $2 per day. But he didn’t need to name names; most of the developing world, including the Muslim world, share his belief that their plight is linked to a world economic system whose goal, for more than half a millennium, has been to exploit the peoples and resources of the rest of the world for the benefit of the more advanced countries of the West.

That is precisely why so many people in the developing world remain opposed to Western-sponsored globalisation, which for most critics, including in the Arab/Muslim world, is little more than imperialism dressed up in the rhetoric of “free markets” and “liberal democracy”. It is this much wider audience, from the favelas of Rio De Janeiro and the shanty towns of Lagos as much as the slums of Casablanca, Sadr City or Cairo, to whom Ahmadinejad was speaking.

———

Iran and Venezuela possess the third- and seventh-largest oil reserves in the world, totaling well over 200 billion barrels – that’s not much less than the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.
The two countries will earn well over $80bn in revenues this year alone. As important, both countries possess non-oil sectors that are surprisingly robust, according to many estimates, for the majority of both Iran’s and Venezuela’s Gross Domestic Product. This provides both countries with billions of dollars to spend on foreign aid, as demonstrated by Ahmadinejad’s stopover in Bolivia, where he pledged $1bn in Iranian aid and development to the poverty stricken country. US policymakers’ view of the world through the “you’re either with us or against us” prism divides the globe into those who support the US and Europe (and the “West” more broadly), and those who support al-Qaeda and “Islamofascism”, a term which has been created precisely to ensure that Americans conflate Osama bin Laden with Ahmadinejad, and both with Hitler.

But few people outside of the West buy this comparison, or the larger black-and-white world-view it reflects. Instead, in Africa and Latin America, Ahmadenijad’s argument that “humanity has had a deep wound on its tired body caused by impious powers for centuries” resonates far more deeply than George Bush’s hollow-sounding calls for democracy and “ending tyranny”.

The West advises Africa to “get over” colonialism, but the pain of colonial rule is still felt by those suffering under the policies imposed by the IMF and/or the World Bank, or from the continued subsidisation of American and European agribusiness while their countries are flooded with below-market wheat, soy or corn. It is to those people whom Ahmadinejad promised – in language that strikingly mirrors US President Bush’s often religiously-hued speeches – that “the era of darkness will end” with the “dawn of the liberation of, and freedom for, all humans“. Americans may not like Ahmadinejad’s or Chavez’s internal politics, ideological orientations, or foreign policies,—-but for most of the third world, which is tired of centuries of domination by the West, the two leaders are a breath of fresh air, who are coming not as conquerors, but as comrades. They are free of the condescending “civilising mission” that, from Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt to the US invasion of Iraq, always seem to include war, occupation, and the appropriation of strategic natural resources under foreign control as part of their mandate. And because of this, most of the citizens of the developing world, rightly or wrongly, couldn’t care less about Ahmadinejad’s positions on Israel, the Holocaust, and nuclear weapons, never mind homosexuals, none of which affect them directly. They care only that he is sticking-it-to their old colonial or Cold war masters, and offering “respect”, “friendship” and billions of dollars in aid with no strings attached. Americans, Europeans and Israelis can fret about it all they want, but it will not change this reality.
Only a reorientation of the world economy towards real sustainability and equality will dampen his appeal, and that’s not likely to happen soon. Which means that Americans will be hearing a lot more of Ahmadinejad and leaders like him in the future.

In support of what Ahmadinejad said, have a look at these two articles in The Guardian:

Sold down the river” (The Guardian, 22 September 2007)

A brief extract:
“Bags of sugar and a few bars of soap – with these the rights to one of the greatest forests in the world change hands. And while foreign loggers rake in the profits, the local people now face losing everything.”

(The Guardian 3 October 2007):

A brief extract:
“The World Bank encouraged foreign companies to destructively log the world’s second largest forest, endangering the lives of thousands of Congolese Pygmies, according to a report on an internal investigation by senior bank staff and outside experts. The report by the independent inspection panel, seen by the Guardian, also accuses the bank of misleading Congo’s government about the value of its forests and of breaking its own rules.
Congo’s rainforests are the second largest in the world after the Amazon, locking nearly 8% of the planet’s carbon and having some of its richest biodiversity. Nearly 40 million people depend on the forests for medicines, shelter, timber and food.”

Who rules the world bank?

Seymour Hersh: The Iran Plans.

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Seymour Myron Hersh is an American journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam war in 1969, for which he received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. In 2004 he reported on the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq.

Here are some extracts from his ‘The Iran Plans’, The New Yorker October 2, 2007.
See the whole report here. Bold by me.

‘One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that ‘ sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.’ He added, ‘I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ‘

‘People think Bush has been focussed on Saddam Hussein since 9/11, but, in my view, if you had to name one nation that was his focus all the way along, it was Iran.’

‘This is much more than a nuclear issue,’ one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. That’s just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years.’

A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror expressed a similar view. ‘This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war,’

The danger, he said, was that ‘it also reinforces the belief inside Iran that the only way to defend the country is to have a nuclear capability.’ A military conflict that destabilized the region could also increase the risk of terror:

Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, ‘The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.’

One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it ‘a juggernaut that has to be stopped.’ He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue.

‘If you attack,’ the high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna, ‘Ahmadinejad will be the new Saddam Hussein of the Arab world, but with more credibility and more power. You must bite the bullet and sit down with the Iranians.’ The diplomat went on, ‘There are people in Washington who would be unhappy if we found a solution. They are still banking on isolation and regime change. This is wishful thinking.’ He added, ‘The window of opportunity is now.’