Friday, February 24, 2017

The discovery of a system of seven new “Earth-like” exoplanets

24 February 2017

The detection of a nearby solar system of potentially Earth-like exoplanets orbiting the star Trappist-1 has evoked widespread public interest and enthusiasm. Millions of people have read reports, watched videos and posted on social media about the seven worlds that might have liquid water on their surfaces.

The Trappist-1 system is comprised of seven planets that orbit a nearby ultracool dwarf star (so-called for its comparatively low temperature). Six of the planets have been confirmed to have an Earth-like size, mass and density. None of them have any hydrogen in their atmospheres, further confirmation that these are all terrestrial, rocky worlds like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Moreover, due to the gravitational interactions between all seven planets and Trappist-1 itself, every world in the system may have liquid water.

Of particular interest is the fact that the planets are very close. They are Earth’s next-door neighbors, relative to the vastness of the universe. Trappist-1 is only 39 light years away—that is, it takes light, traveling at about 300,000 meters per second, 39 years to travel the distance. In comparison, the Milky Way galaxy of which our sun is a part has a diameter of 100,000 light years, and it is about 2.5 million light years to its larger companion, the Andromeda galaxy, one of trillions of galaxies in the Universe.

The planets are so close that, in the not-too-distant future, it should be possible to make far more detailed analyses and even direct observations of exoplanets.

The discovery of these worlds is the most remarkable of a wave of new scientific findings since the first “exoplanet”—a planet outside of our solar system—was discovered around a Sun-like star in the mid-1990s. At the time, while exoplanets had been predicted for nearly four centuries, none had been conclusively detected, let alone directly observed.

Advances in measuring techniques and the use of instruments placed in the orbit around Earth, free of the distortions of the atmosphere, made it possible to detect very slight dips in the brightness of stars. When those dips were observed with regularity, they could be attributed to the motion of planets across the line of sight between the star and the observers.

When the first detection occurred, it opened a whole new realm of astronomy. The gravitational effects of these unseen planets could also be studied, providing evidence of their mass, density and other physical characteristics. Today, not only have scientists detected more than 3,400 exoplanets, the knowledge built up over the past 20 years makes it possible to visualize what these worlds might look like, either from space or from the surface. And with the launching of the James Webb Space Telescope next year, it should be possible to make far more detailed analysis and even direct observation of exoplanets.

Like most significant astronomical advances, the planets’ discovery was an international endeavor. The detection of exoplanets around Trappist-1 began in May 2016, when a team of astronomers used the Chile-based Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), remotely operated from Belgium and Switzerland, to first observe the star. They discovered three Earth-sized planets orbiting it, with the outermost one likely within the star’s habitable zone.

This encouraged further observations, which were conducted by a series of ground-based telescopes located in Chile, Hawaii, Morocco, Spain and South Africa. The Spitzer Space Telescope was also commissioned to use its higher precision and greater ability to see in the infrared to study the system. When it was discovered that the system had not three, but seven planets, the Hubble Space Telescope was employed to do an initial survey of the planetary atmospheres for hydrogen. Astronomers across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America, South America and Southeast Asia coordinated their efforts to make sense of the data.

The discovery of a planetary system around Trappist-1 is not merely a piece of luck. It is the confirmation of a scientific hypothesis, first advanced in 1997, that, due to the physics of stellar formation, stars with about a tenth of the mass of the Sun are more likely to have terrestrial-sized planets. Trappist-1 is one of many candidates to be studied using this hypothesis, and the first for which the idea has been borne out.

This scientific breakthrough is the culmination of several centuries of advances in astronomy and physics: the understanding of how solar systems are formed; the analysis of visible light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation; and mathematical methods of analysis used to discover the subtle signals in the data from stellar observations.

Trappist-1 is a demonstration of the power of human cognition, science and reason. It is a powerful rebuke to the incessant contemporary glorification of irrationalism, whether through the cultivation of backwardness and religious prejudice or the promotion of postmodernism and its rejection of objective truth, and a mighty vindication of the materialist understanding of the world, that there are objective laws of nature and that humans can comprehend them.

Among millions of people inspired by such discoveries, there is an instinctive understanding that the methods employed to find the Trappist-1 planets and make other scientific and technical advances should be used to solve social and economic problems, to provide sufficient health care, education, shelter or food for all humanity. How can our society discover seven potentially Earth-like worlds more than 350 trillion kilometers away, yet proceed, through environmental recklessness and nuclear-armed militarism, to destroy the planet on which we live?

The exoplanet discovery was based on collaboration towards a common goal whose driving force was the pursuit of knowledge, not the amassing of insane amounts of personal wealth. This sort of thinking is totally alien to the world’s ruling elite, which flaunts its backwardness, vulgarity, ignorance and parasitism, personified in the figure of Donald Trump.

This discovery highlights another contradiction of modern society. The organization and planning required to produce these results is a testament to humanity’s ability to rationally and scientifically coordinate resources on an international scale. The scientists on the project also had to reject the constant mantra of national chauvinism, espoused by the ruling elites throughout the world. While science probes the seemingly infinite distances of galactic space, humanity remains trapped at home within the prison house of the nation-state system, with barbed-wire fences, wars, invasions, bombings and mass flights of refugees.

The squandering of trillions of dollars, yuan, yen and euros to enrich a parasitic capitalist elite and to wage war around the globe is one reason why scientific announcements of this order are so rare. Immense resources, material and human, are wasted, which should be devoted to the improvement of the human condition and the conquest of knowledge of the material world.

The creation of a society in which the development of knowledge can be freed from the constraints of capitalism requires the application of science and reason to the evolution of society and to politics. In opposition to postmodernism and its many variants, which insist that there is no objective truth, Marxism is rooted in an analysis of the laws of socioeconomic development.

Driven inexorably by its internal contradictions, capitalism is leading mankind toward the abyss of world war and dictatorship. These same contradictions, however, also produce the basis for the overthrow of capitalism: the international working class. The objective process must be made conscious, and the growing opposition of millions of workers and youth around the world must be transformed into a political movement that has as its aim the establishment of an internationally coordinated, rationally directed system of economic planning based on equality and the satisfaction of human need: socialism.

Bryan Dyne

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Radical Liberal Guide to Anti-Trump Organizations (The Nation)

Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement An explosion of new activism offers a ray of hope in these dark political times.

By Joshua HollandTwitter February 6, 2017

The election of Donald Trump was a catastrophe for progressive America, but the damage may be mitigated over the long term by a remarkable surge of energy on the left in response to his election. As many as 5.2 million people participated in hastily organized Women’s Marches across the country, senators’ phones have reportedly been jammed with calls protesting Trump’s cabinet nominees and other early moves, and, according to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, more than one in three Democrats say they plan to become “more involved in the political process in the next year” as a result of the election. That’s true of 40 percent of Democratic women, and almost half of self-identified liberal Democrats.

The widely held view that Trump is an illegitimate president who’s poised to enact an agenda combining the worst of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “granny-starving” fiscal conservatism with White House consigliere Steve Bannon’s ethno-nationalism has fueled the formation of dozens of new grassroots resistance groups. Some were launched by seasoned political operatives, others by people who hadn’t engaged in activism in the past. Some were germinated during chats on long bus rides to the Women’s March. Not all of them will succeed—some false starts are a given—but like any collection of innovative start-ups, it only takes a few successes to change the landscape.

Here’s an overview of some of the new efforts launched since November 9. It’s by no means comprehensive, but we started with a list of 75 new groups and whittled them down to some of the most interesting or promising. They’re not presented in any kind of ranked order. Our hope is that knowing how others are standing up to Trump will inspire more readers to get involved. Indivisible

When a handful of current and former congressional staffers posted a guide on Google Docs outlining the most effective ways for ordinary people to lobby their representatives, they had no idea it would blow up the way it has.

“We believe that Donald Trump’s agenda does not depend on Donald Trump–it depends on members of Congress rubber-stamping that agenda,” says Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project. “And perhaps the only great thing about Congress is that members are responsive to their constituents. Every member of Congress wakes up thinking about re-election.”

Levin says that Indivisible built on the Tea Party’s model of “practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy.” This, he adds, “was very smart, and it was rooted in an understanding of how American democracy works. They understood that they didn’t have the power to set the agenda in Washington, but they did have the ability to react to it. It’s Civics 101 stuff—going to local offices, attending events, calling their reps.”

Within hours of posting the guide, the website crashed under the weight of traffic—Levin says that 1.5 million people have downloaded it so far. “Blown away” by the response, they decided to expand the project with a local focus. “The really exciting thing that’s happened is the emergence of Indivisible groups across the country,” says Levin. The website allows you to enter your zip code and connect with like-minded people in your community. Levin says that 5,300 groups have registered so far, and 200,000 have signed up to participate. “And what’s so exciting is that the majority are brand new people who are coming together post-election to figure out what to do.” KnockEveryDoor KnockEveryDoor co-founder Zack Malitz says that “in the 2016 election, Democrats didn’t invest enough in going door to door and talking to voters. And where they did, they didn’t reach out to people who needed to be persuaded or who were perennially discouraged from voting.” So he and some other former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers and volunteers got together and decided to organize canvassers to…knock on every door in the country.

“Talking to every voter requires a new approach to organizing,” says Malitz. “You’ll never be able to hire enough field organizers to support that kind of effort if you assume that a volunteer has to be directly in touch with a campaign staffer before they can get to work. So our approach is radical trust in volunteers—not just to knock on doors, but to organize their neighbors to knock on doors, to lead canvassing trainings, to barnstorm their communities, and even to run critical pieces of campaign infrastructure and technology. That’s the only way you can organize at a scale where it really is possible to knock on every door.”

The group launched just two weeks ago, and 2,000 people have already signed up to participate. Last weekend, they held 17 canvassing events around the country. You can join the effort at the link above or chip in a few bucks to support this work here.

Swing Left

Swing Left was launched by a small group of friends who had little experience with political activism. The goal is to sign up progressive activists in safe congressional districts to canvas in the nearest swing district and ultimately flip the House to Democratic control in 2018.

“Voters in ‘safe’ districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions,” says co-founder Miriam Stone. “At the same time, House midterm elections, including in swing districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of swing districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races. We believe there’s something powerful in the idea of individuals personally connecting with each other and rallying around specific, local Swing Districts.”

Over 280,000 people have signed up so far, according to Stone. So far, the organizers have covered the costs of the operation out of their own pockets, and they’re now looking for funding as well as volunteers.

Run for Something

This organization, launched January 20, is committed to recruiting and supporting millennials running for down-ballot offices. “If you’re a young progressive who’s not necessarily part of the system or familiar with politics, there was really nowhere for you to go to ask for help if you wanted to run,” says Amanda Litman, a former Clinton campaign staffer and co-founder of the group. “Candidate recruitment is a time-intensive activity that requires a lot of manpower and resources, and it’s something that the state parties and state committees just couldn’t do properly because they’re already doing so much. So we’re trying to fill that gap.”

Millennials who want to get into electoral politics will be able to access training, pick the brains of experienced mentors, and in some cases get help with funding and staff. Litman says that in less than two weeks since the project’s launch, they’ve signed up almost 3,000 young candidates to run for local office. She says that the group didn’t expect the response they’ve gotten, and are now building out infrastructure to handle the demand. Operation 45

Freedom of Information Act guru Ryan Shapiro, who has been a thorn in the side of both the Bush and Obama administrations, calls FOIA a “radical experiment in transparency,” at least in theory. In practice, government agencies have become adept at deflecting or deferring FOIA requests, and it takes a special skill set to navigate these bureaucracies.

Shapiro and attorney Jeffrey Light, a specialist in FOIA litigation, had been doing their work part-time, but, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the duo decided that they needed to redouble their efforts. “Jeffrey and I have been doing this work for years,” says Shapiro. “We have thousands of FOIA requests in motion with various federal agencies. We currently 15 fifteen active FOIA lawsuits against the FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, and other agencies, as well as numerous additional lawsuits in the pipeline.”

Shapiro says that he and Light had “expected to continue fighting government secrecy under Hillary Clinton. But on November 9, faced with Donald Trump’s overt contempt for transparency, freedom of the press, and the Constitution itself, we realized we now needed to significantly expand our efforts. We founded Operation 45 so we can focus on this work full-time, as well as bring on other people to assist as we scale up to take on the Trump administration. We have the expertise and the vision, now it’s just a question of resources.” You can get more information at the link above, or chip in a few bucks toward their efforts at this Gofundme page.

Movement 2017

Technically, we’re cheating here: There was a #Movement2016 website, but it was sort of a work-in-progress. After the election, organizers revamped the project and relaunched it as #Movement2017, and it’s a useful tool for those who want to offer financial support to lesser-known organizations in their communities.

Veteran organizer Billy Wimsatt, who launched the effort, says that while the big progressive advocacy organizations will play an important role in the resistance, the idea behind Movement 2017 is that small-dollar donations to local grassroots groups can often make the difference between their succeeding and fizzling out.

But how can one know that one of these groups is using its resources wisely and doing valuable work? Movement 2017, says Wimsatt, is “a platform to donate to the resistance in a vetted way. We feature 200 of the best, local progressive vote groups in key 2018 states, along with selected national groups. There are a zillion donate lists floating around, but most aren’t vetted and they tend to focus on large brand names. We focus on scrappy groups that offer the biggest bang for the buck.”

The Pussy Hat Project

Who would have thought of knitting as a vehicle for defending women’s rights? Two erstwhile non-activists from Los Angeles—architect Jayna Zweiman and screenwriter Krista Suh. And they appear to have hit on something, given how rapidly the Pussy Hat Project has taken off.

The idea was to bring people together in knitting circles, where they would produce handmade pussy hats for participants in the women’s marches, as well as family and friends, and while they’re at it, plot the resistance.

“The traditional knitting circle is a fantastic opportunity to have discussions,” says Zweiman. “People are coming together to create something, but they’re also there with a group of like-minded people, often for several hours, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about women’s rights and come up with ideas about what we can be doing—for creating a community around activism.”

The other goal was to give people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to a protest an opportunity to participate in the movement. Zweiman was recovering from a concussion during the Women’s March, and couldn’t deal with large crowds. She says that, “when you see that sea of pink hats, you understand that it’s not just about the people out in the street marching, but also those supporting the marchers.” Movement Match

In November, a group of friends–most of them longtime activists–got together to console one another in aftermath of the election. “We started talking about what keeps us going in the face of hard realities. We realized that what gives us hope and energy to keep going with our work is the fact that we are members of activist groups,” says Talia Cooper, who co-founded the project with Pippi Kessler, Sonia Alexander, and David Mahfouda. “We realized that a lot of people got activated since the election, and some of them say that they’re not sure what to do. So we’re working to direct people who are new to the movement to organizations led by experienced activists and seasoned organizers.”

They developed a quiz to help match newly hatched activists with the right organization, and what began as a six-week project has now expanded into something more, with 70 volunteers working on one aspect of the campaign or another. Cooper says that over 10,000 people have taken the quiz so far. At this point, they’ve focused primarily on groups working in the New York–Philadelphia region and the Bay Area, but the group plans on taking their database nationwide.

It’s been an all-volunteer effort so far, but Cooper says, “we’re realizing that this might start to cost us some money. If people want to support us in that they can donate here.” You can also suggest worthy groups to include in the campaign here.

Some other noteworthy groups and campaigns…

Brought to you by the scrappy organizers behind what’s been described as the largest march in US history, the Women’s March 10/100 Campaign is trying to keep the momentum going. Sign up and commit to participating in ten concrete actions during the first 100 days of the Trump regime.

The Town Hall Project is an unfunded, crowdsourced, Facebook-based project that researches “every district and state for public events with Members of Congress,” and makes the info available via a Google spreadsheet in the hope that people will engage their representatives face to face. They also “have a team of organizers that works with local groups on the ground to coordinate efforts and encourage citizens to amplify their voices,” according to their “about” page. ResistTrumpTuesdays is a joint project of The Working Families Party, MoveOn, and People’s Action. Its goal is to turn large numbers of activists out every Tuesday to fight back against a different element of Trump’s agenda. You can follow the action by clicking on the Twitter hashtag above, or go here to find a local action near you here.

Co-founded by The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, Justice Democrats is recruiting progressive candidates to challenge “corporate-backed Democrats” in primaries and “rebuild the party from scratch.”

Millennials for Revolution, a group of former People for Bernie organizers, wanted to “take the opposition to DC,” but realized that activists, especially younger ones, need a base of operations in the belly of the beast—a place to strategize and if necessary stay for a few nights. They’ve neared their goal of raising $50,000 to cover rent on a space near the Capitol for a year—90 percent of their donations turned out to be $27—and signed a lease on a property this week. For more info, or if you want to support their effort, check out District 13 House.

You can sign up for a weekly “act of resistance,” and pledge to follow through, at wall-of-us, another new effort to capitalize on the energy of the Women’s March.

Organizers are planning a Scientists’ March on Washington, DC, on April 22. More info can be found here.

The ACLU reportedly raised $24 million during the weekend following the announcement of Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” but there are dozens of local legal aid groups that will also need support as the resistance spreads. Rewire compiled a list of 24 of these smaller legal-aid organizations, with brief descriptions of each. Check it out here.

Concerned about the spread of fake news? It’s a difficult problem to tackle, but Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy and author of The Filter Bubble, launched a humble spreadsheet to crowdsource ideas, and it has since “become a hive of collaborative activity, with hundreds of journalists and other contributors brainstorming strategies for pushing back against publishers that peddle falsehoods,” according to Fortune. The spreadsheet, titled “Design Solutions for Fake News,” is here.

You can also hit Breitbart News and other sites that peddle in bigotry and white nationalism in their pocketbooks by getting involved with a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants. Their strategy is simple: Make sure that corporations are aware of the kind of content that appears alongside their ads. This New York Times story offers more detail about the campaign.

Feeling overwhelmed by the rush of real news about the Trump regime? Matt Kiser, a tech writer by day, launched a side project chronicling “the daily shock and awe in Trump’s America.” The goal of, according to the site’s “about” page, “is to capture the most important news in a digestible form.”

It may be a Hail Mary pass, but the organizers behind ImpeachTrumpNow, John Bonifaz, and Norman Solomon, are veteran progressive activists who lay out a compelling case at the link above.

Buycott Trump is trying to get people to vote with their dollars. Organizers have launched a new campaign on top of an existing app that allows you to scan barcodes and QVCs, and offers you information about the politics of the companies who make the products you see on store shelves. You can find links to download the app at the link above.

You can also enter your phone number at White House, Inc. or, and be randomly connected to a Trump property somewhere in the world, where you can politely discuss the issues that matter to you—and in the process keep their lines tied up.

With Trump in the White House, and Republicans controlling all three branches of government, popular resistance has never been more important. It’s too soon to tell which of these groups will take off and succeed, but it’s not too early to throw yourself into one of these worthy efforts. And if we’ve overlooked a new effort that you think is important, let other readers know.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

US Air Force X-37B space plane finally set to land after secret two year mission?

One of the most mysterious craft ever to be flown by the US military has been in orbit for almost two years.

The X-37B space plane, an experimental program run by the Air Force, launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015.

Now, experts claim it may be about to finally return to Earth - almost two years later.

'The historic Shuttle Landing Facility at the Florida spaceport is preparing to once again host an end of mission landing as the Air Force's X-37B mini spaceplane prepares to return from a near two year mission on orbit,' said.

However, the Air Force claimed the movement was simply a test exercise, meaning the mission continues.

'The X-37 is still on-orbit. 'The program is conducting a regularly scheduled exercise this week,' said Capt. Annmarie Annicelli, media operations officer at the Pentagon's Air Force Press Desk. says even if there is a test, the landing equiment has been left in place for a possible landing. While some details of its payload have been revealed - we still do not know exactly what's on board.

Theories have ranged from it being a space bomber, to a clandestine probe on a mission to 'take out' spy satellites. United Launch Alliance's 206ft Atlas V rocket launched the space plane from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral last May. The mystery vehicle, essentially a technology test bed, is designed to orbit the Earth and then land like one of Nasa's old shuttles.

According to X-37B manufacturer Boeing, the space plane operates in low-earth orbit, between 110 (177km) and 500 miles (800km) above earth. ....... The U.S. Air Force's unmanned X-37B space plane has flown three previous secret missions to date.

Each time it has carried a mystery payload on long-duration flights in Earth orbit.

The spacecraft looks similar to Nasa's space shuttle but is much smaller. The X-37B is about 29ft (8.8m) long and 9.5ft (2.9 m) tall.

It has a wingspan of just less than 15ft (4.6 m). At launch, it weighs 11,000lbs (4,990kg).

The craft is taken into orbit on a rocket but lands like the space shuttle by gliding down to Earth.

While it's main mission payload is a mystery, Nasa has revealed it has a materials experiment aboard.

The Planetary Society is tagging along with a solar-sail demo.

Ten CubeSat nanosatellites are also taking a piggyback ride into orbit.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

If you really love yourself, you’d keep a journal

If you really love yourself, you’d keep a journal. Bold statement, I know, but I mean it.

The ultimate act of self-love is self-expression. It is confidently believing that your thoughts, both silly and serious, are worthy of note – no exceptions.

I assume I’m not alone in having spent a childhood and at least half an adolescence sporadically trying to keep a regular journal and failing at it consistently. Even as a little girl, when shame and inhibition should’ve been influencing exactly zero percent of my decisions, the act of keeping a diary filled with my daily thoughts and feelings felt frivolous and embarrassing and I never succeeded at writing more than one or two entries before I gave up.

I was perfectly fine dancing like a fool in the aisles at church or confidently yelling wrong answers out in class, but something about the act of journaling embarrassed me like nothing else could, which doesn’t make any sense, right?

Don’t we usually think of embarrassment as an emotion we only feel in a crowd, an emotion that comes as a direct product of being judged? Why then did the thought of keeping a journal, that was only ever meant for me, embarrass me to the point of giving up for most of my life? Why does the same thought still keep many adults from journaling to this day?

I think it’s because we judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else ever could. In our (at least ideally) merit-based society, we’re taught that the good ideas are worth sharing and the bad ones are worth keeping to ourselves, that the good songs should get on the album and the bad songs should get left on the cutting room floor. Now I’m not arguing that the bad songs should make it onto the album, I’m just saying that you’re never going to write a good song until you write a couple of bad ones. In your journal. Without being embarrassed about it.

We all deserve a place where we can be free to create without fear of judgment from anyone, including ourselves.

A journal is a place to keep all your bad songs, all your embarrassingly terrible love poems and all the mundane details of your day. It’s a place where you show yourself compassion by not holding yourself to a single standard other than production, a place where you make and document and keep and ramble – each word you write, a self-affirmation of your own right to be heard. Your journal can be notebook or a blog or a sketchbook or a bunch of voice memos on your phone – it doesn’t matter.

But whatever form it takes, journaling is a way to get to know the truest, most vulnerable iteration of yourself. It’s scary and intimate and weird but it’s all worth it. So much can be learned by taking the amorphous mush of thoughts and ideas and feelings and memories in your mind and materializing them in any way you can. And so much can be gained. Don’t believe me? Try it. I dare you.

I dare you to keep a journal that you write in every day. I dare you to love yourself one sentence at a time. I dare you to show yourself that your voice is worthy of being heard, even if the only person hearing it is you. I dare you to sit alone in a crowd and applaud for every one of your own bad songs, blissfully indifferent to their destiny to be left on the cutting room floor.

Can a fart be misogynist?

Can a fart be misogynist? Most women who experience #FartRape too intimidated to report the sexual violence

Top feminist academics that have respectable diverse doctorates from medieval art, 6th century English to Women’s Studies gathered at the University of Toronto meeting center to discuss if human flatulence could be sexist.

Ashleigh Ingle a proud feminist and an anarchist argued that because of patriarchal gender norms women were not allowed to release gas in public because of men’s unreal expectations of women to be clean and feminine. Furthermore she articulated that if a woman was to fart in the presence of a man and the man responded by farting louder than the woman, than that would be rape.

The discussion boiled down to women’s bodies once again being controlled by society and women being told what to do. Local activist Steph Guthrie a feminist advocate and community organizer who specialises in social media and interactive events proposed an online campaign to tackle this misogyny that “keeps women down and trapped in their own bodies. I just find it horrific that the patriarchy has been controlling women’s flatulence this whole time and we have just realised this now, it is time for feminist worldwide to re-educate women on how they are being discriminated against.

Guthrie’s twitter hash tag #FartRape has started to trend as women are taking control of their own bodies by naming and shaming men guilty of fart rape. Guthrie hopes the guilty men will be identified and then their workplace will be called up and their employer will be notified the type of person they are harboring in the workplace.

But Ingle argues that it simply isn’t enough, “Don’t tell women to fart louder tell men not to fart so loud” This is clear victim blaming and government should pass laws to make male farts above a certain decibel illegal to make human flatulence equal and not discriminate against women.

This strategy was not successful with one alleged 'fart rapist' who turned out to be the owner of his company and could not be fired. Some suggested a boycott of his business. Another man was a carpenter in a labor union and activists urged unions to pass laws banning their members from farting on the job when women were around.

Science advocates have argued that because of sexual dimorphism men are larger, need a higher protein intake and thus can relieve more flatulence, but the speakers at the conference were adamant that it was a socially constructed gender norm that oppressed women to the point that they physically do not release equal amounts of gas as men.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Can You See the Real Me

Why is the New York Times promoting the "black bloc"? (/r/Leftwinger)

I posted this on /r/Leftwinger:

4 February 2017

The New York Times, the semi-official voice of the Democratic Party establishment, published an extraordinary article in its Friday edition headlined "Anarchists Vow to Halt Far Right's Rise, With Violence if Needed."

The piece, which ran across four columns of the newspaper's front page under a huge photo of a black-masked individual preparing to break an office building window with an iron bar during Wednesday night's protests at the University of California, Berkeley, amounted to free publicity and promotion of the violent protests organized by elements identifying themselves as the "black bloc," anti-fascists and anarchists.

Authored by Times reporter Farah Stockman, the article consists not only of breathless accounts of gratuitous acts of violence by these elements and extended quotes from individuals claiming to represent their politics, but also multiple links to anarchist and black bloc websites and twitter feeds, helpfully provided for any reader who might want to get involved.

"With far-right groups edging into the mainstream with the rise of Donald Trump, self-described anti-fascists and anarchists are vowing to confront them at every turn, and by any means necessary--including violence," Stockman writes.

"Anarchists also say their recent efforts have been wildly successful, both by focusing attention on their most urgent argument--that Mr. Trump poses a fascist threat--and by enticing others to join their movement," the article continues. It is clear that she and the Times decided to lend a hand to this "enticement."

The article ran just two days after the protest in Berkeley over a scheduled speaking appearance there by Milo Yiannopoulos, a senior editor at the extreme right-wing Breitbart News, whose former boss, the fascistic Stephen Bannon, has become Trump's chief White House strategist.

While thousands of Berkeley students turned out to protest peacefully against Yiannopoulos, a reactionary provocateur who laces his speeches with Islamophobia, racism and right-wing nationalism, a minority of about 150 black-masked demonstrators organized under an amorphous coalition describing itself as ANTIFA, standing for anti-fascist, marched onto the campus and carried out acts of gratuitous violence that an overwhelming majority of the students at the protest opposed.

The ANTIFA contingent smashed windows, set fires, shot fireworks at police, assaulted the few Trump supporters in the area and vandalized local stores, buildings and ATMs.

The intervention by these hooded vandals managed to turn a mass protest into a police provocation.

These actions were precisely what Yiannopoulos and his supporters desired, allowing them to drape their virulent anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism in the mantle of "free speech." Trump responded with a threat to cut off federal funding to UC Berkeley, and the turmoil was seized upon by various politicians as a pretext for promoting laws to suppress genuine protests and strikes.

There has been a long experience with the violence of the so-called "black bloc," anarchist and ANTIFA protesters, not only in the United States, but in Europe and around the world. The politics of these movements are thoroughly reactionary, based upon a visceral hostility to any struggle to mobilize the working class and youth in an independent political struggle against the capitalist system and for socialism. They attract demoralized and disoriented elements from the middle class, along with a sizable number of police provocateurs who hide behind hoods and masks and egg on the violence to provide an excuse for repression.

For obvious reasons, as at Wednesday night's protest in Berkeley, these forces are often given a free hand to carry out provocations that are then exploited by the police. The challenge confronting those seeking to carry out genuine political actions in opposition to the government and the capitalist system it defends is to identify these provocateurs before they can do their dirty work and throw them out.

The Times, however, seems determined to see them get in. The article includes the following: "The question now is whether anarchists' efforts against Mr. Trump--whether merely colorful and spirited, or lawless and potentially lethal--will earn their fringe movement a bigger presence in the battle of ideas in years to come."

No, the real question is, why is the Times promoting this "fringe movement" as some kind of serious contender in the "battle of ideas"?

The article, like much of that which appears in the news pages of the New York Times, stinks of a filthy political provocation.

The Times' aim in promoting such retrograde tendencies as the "black bloc" and self-styled anarchists is to help divert the growing popular radicalization in response to the most right-wing government in US history into safe political channels.

Whatever the cost in broken windows, damaged ATMs and looted Starbucks' coffee shops, these forces are fully subordinated to the Democratic Party and the capitalist system, while serving as a useful tool for the police in repressing mass unrest.

This explains how a newspaper that endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, has supported every imperialist war waged by Washington and has waged a neo-McCarthyite campaign in support of confrontation with Russia has become an enthusiastic patron of anarchism.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lady Gaga Superbowl - Apolitical or Simpley Appropriate?

I posted this article about Lady Gaga and her increased sales after a Superbowl half time show.  Some people had hoped that the outspoken advocate of tolerance for gay people and others who are 'different' would make a statement about Trump's presidency.  Before the event some wondered if she would take Meryl Streep as a model and use the public attention to denounce Trump and his policies.  

But even Fox news Right Winger Bill O'Reilly had to salute the professional job Lady Gaga performance showed.  Lady Gaga spreads her message through her music, not through public speeches in the middle of performances.  The increase in sales of her music will reinforce her message of tolerance through her art.  

One commentator noted that Beyonce had a political slant to her performance with a Black Panther Party themed half time show.  She wanted to express solidarity with Black Lives Matter street protests against police killings of black people.  Most of the time Beyonce's work is not very political at all, so maybe it was a good time for her to express solidarity with spontaneous demonstrations in the streets.  But one commentator wrote that 'once again the black woman is left to do the heavy lifting.'  The artistic choice of when to be political is not recognized in the bizarre world of 'privilege checking' oppression olympics.  

 So here's what I posted about L. Gaga increasing here message through a good performance that caused people to seek out her work.  I put it on /r/RadicalFeminism on Reddit, and also on Craiglist Boston General. 


Lady Gaga sales spike 1,000% after Super Bowl halftime show (How to spread a message)

It's good to be Lady Gaga.

Two days removed from her well-received Super Bowl halftime performance, her music sales and streaming stats are soaring.

Digital sales: Nielsen Music reports she sold 125,000 song downloads. That's up roughly 960% compared to the day before the game. She sold over 23,000 albums on Sunday, representing a 2,000% increase.

The newest song in her Super Bowl set, A Million Reasons, saw the biggest sales bump with 45,000 downloads, up 900% from one day earlier. In fact, A Million Reasons, a track from her October release Joanne, had its best sales week ever.

Review: Lady Gaga preaches unity during high-flying Super Bowl set

Bad Romance saw a bump of 1,525%, selling more than 13,000 downloads.

Born This Way sold 12,000 downloads, good enough for a 2,202% increase.

Poker Face picked up 10,000 new sales, an increase of 1,217%

Spotify: The songs from her Sunday set are up 674% while her catalog has spiked 605%. Born This Way is enjoying a particularly good sales day with an increase of 1,085%

Pandora: Demand for the streaming service's Lady Gaga station is up 1,400% compared to last week. Meanwhile, more than 24,000 users added her station to their accounts on Sunday alone.

And she'll have another number to look forward to next week after tickets for the U.S. leg of her Joanne world tour go on sale Monday.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Islamic State Slavery is Echoed Across the Arab World

"Spoils of war,” snaps Dabiq, the English-language journal of Islamic State (IS). The reference is to thousands of Yazidi women the group forced into sex slavery after taking their mountain, Sinjar, in August last year. Far from being a perversion, it claims that forced concubinage is a religious practice sanctified by the Koran. In a chapter called “Women”, the Koran sanctions the marriage of up to four wives, or “those that your right hands possess”. Literalists, like those behind the Dabiq article, have interpreted these words as meaning “captured in battle”. Its purported female author, Umm Sumayyah, celebrated the revival of Islam’s slave-markets and even proffered the hope that Michelle Obama, the wife of America’s president, might soon be sold there. “I and those with me at home prostrated to Allah in gratitude on the day the first slave-girl entered our home,” she wrote. Sympathisers have done the same, most notably the allied Nigerian militant group, Boko Haram, which last year kidnapped an entire girls’ school in Chibok.

Religious preachers have responded with a chorus of protests. “The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus,” declared an open letter sent by 140 Muslim scholars to IS’s “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, earlier this year. “You have taken women as concubines and thus revived…corruption and lewdness on the earth.”

But while IS’s embrace of outright slavery has been singled out for censure, religious and political leaders have been more circumspect about other “slave-like” conditions prevalent across the region. IS’s targeting of an entire sect for kidnapping, killing and sex trafficking, and its bragging, are exceptional; forced labour for sexual and other forms of exploitation is not. From Morocco, where thousands of children work as petites bonnes, or maids, to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan where girls are forced into prostitution, to the unsanctioned rape and abuse of domestics in the Gulf, aid workers say servitude is rife.

Scholars are sharply divided over how much cultural mores are to blame. Apologists say that, in a concession to the age, the Prophet Muhammad tolerated slavery, but—according to a prominent American theologian trained in Salifi seminaries, Yasir Qadhi—he did so grudgingly and advocated abolition. Repeatedly in the Koran the Prophet calls for the manumission of slaves and release of captives, seeking to alleviate the slave systems run by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Jewish Himyarite kings of Yemen. He freed one slave, a chief’s daughter, by marrying her, and chose Bilal, another slave he had freed, to recite the first call to prayer after his conquest of Mecca. His message was liberation from worldly oppression, says Mr Qadhi—enslavement to God, not man.

Other scholars insist, however, that IS’s treatment of Yazidis adheres to Islamic tradition. “They are in full compliance with Koranic understanding in its early stages,” says Professor Ehud Toledano, a leading authority on Islamic slavery at Tel Aviv University. Moreover, “what the Prophet has permitted, Muslims cannot forbid.” The Prophet’s calls to release slaves only spurred a search for fresh stock as the new empire spread, driven by commerce, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Persian Gulf.

To quash a black revolt in the salt mines of southern Iraq, the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad conscripted Turkish slaves into their army. Within a few generations these formed a power base, and from 1250 to 1517 an entire slave caste, the Mamluks (Arabic for “chattel”), ruled Egypt.

A path to power

Their successors, the Ottoman Turks, perfected the system. After conquering south-eastern Europe in the late 14th century, they imposed the devshirme, or tribute, enslaving the children of the rural poor, on the basis that they were more pagan than Christian, and therefore not subject to the protections Islam gave to People of the Book. Far from resisting this, many parents were happy to deliver their offspring into the white slave elite that ran the empire.

Under this system, enslaved boys climbed the ranks of the army and civil service. Girls entered the harem as concubines to bear sultans. All anticipated, and often earned, power and wealth. Unlike the feudal system of Christian Europe, this one was meritocratic and generated a diverse gene pool. Mehmet II, perhaps the greatest of the Ottoman sultans, who ruled in the 15th century, had the fair skin of his mother, a slave girl from the empire’s north-western reaches.

All this ended because of abolition in the West. After severing the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century, Western abolitionists turned on the Islamic world’s, and within decades had brought down a system that had administered not just the Ottoman empire but the Sherifian empire of Morocco, the Sultanate of Oman with its colonies on the Swahili-speaking coast and West Africa’s Sokoto Caliphate.

With Western encouragement, Serb and Greek rebels sloughed off devshirme. Fearful of French ambitions, the mufti of Tunis wooed the British by closing his slave-markets in 1846. A few years later, the sultan in Istanbul followed suit. Some tried to resist, including Morocco’s sultan and the cotton merchants of Egypt, who had imported African slaves to make up the shortages left by the ravages of America’s civil war. But colonial pressure proved unstoppable. Under Britain’s consul-general, Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Egypt’s legislative assembly dutifully abolished slavery at the end of the 19th century. The Ottoman register for 1906 still lists 194 eunuchs and 500 women in the imperial harem, but two years later they were gone.

For almost a century the Middle East, on paper at least, was free of slaves. “Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them,” proclaimed the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in 1990. Early jihadist groups followed the trend, characterising themselves as liberation movements and, as such, rejecting slavery.

But though slavery per se may be condemned, observers point to the persistence of servitude. The Global Slavery Index (GSI), whose estimates are computed by an Australian NGO working with Hull University, claims that of 14 states with over 1% of the population enslaved, more than half are Muslim. Prime offenders range from the region’s poorest state, Mauritania, to its richest per head, Qatar.

The criteria and data used by GSI have been criticised, but evidence supports the thrust of its findings. Many Arab states took far longer to criminalise slavery than to ban it. Mauritania, the world’s leading enslaver, did not do so until 2007. Where bans exist, they are rarely enforced. The year after Qatar abolished slavery in 1952, the emir took his slaves to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Government inspections and prosecutions are rarities. “The security chiefs, the judges and the lawyers all belong to the class that historically owned slaves,” says Sarah Mathewson of London-based Anti-Slavery International. “They are part of the problem.”

No labour practice has drawn more international criticism than the kafala system, which ties migrant workers to their employers. This is not slavery as IS imposes it; migrants come voluntarily, drawn by the huge wealth gap between their own countries and the Gulf. But the system “facilitates slavery”, says Nicholas McGeehan, who reports for Human Rights Watch on conditions in the desert camps where most such workers live. The Gulf’s 2.4m domestic servants are even more vulnerable. Most do not enjoy the least protection under labour laws. Housed and, in some cases, locked in under their employer’s roof, they are prey to sexual exploitation.

Irons and red-hot bars

Again, these workers have come voluntarily; but disquieting echoes persist. Many Gulf nationals can be heard referring to their domestics as malikat (slaves). Since several Asian governments have suspended or banned their female nationals from domestic work in the Gulf out of concern for their welfare, recruitment agencies are turning to parts of Africa, such as Uganda, which once exported female slaves. Some domestic servants are abused with irons and red-hot bars: resonant, says Mr McGeehan, of slave-branding in the past.

Elsewhere in the region, the collapse of law and order provides further cover for a comeback of old practices. Syrian refugee camps in Jordan provide a supply of girls for both the capital’s brothels and for Gulf men trawling websites, which offer short-term marriages for brokerage fees of $140-270 each. Trafficking has soared in Libya’s Mediterranean ports, which under the Ottomans exported sub-Saharan labour to Europe. Long before Boko Haram kidnapped girls, Anti-Slavery International had warned that Nigerian businessmen were buying “fifth wives”—concubines alongside the four wives permitted by Islam—from neighbouring Niger.

Gulf states insist they are dealing with the problem. In June Kuwait’s parliament granted domestic servants labour rights, the first Gulf state to do so. It is also the only Gulf state to have opened a refuge for female migrants. Qatar, fearful that reported abuses might upset its hosting of the World Cup in 2022, has promised to improve migrant housing. And earlier this year Mauritania’s government ordered preachers at Friday prayers to publicise a fatwa by the country’s leading clerics declaring: “Slavery has no legal foundation in sharia law.” Observers fear, though, that this is window-dressing. And Kuwait’s emir has yet to ratify the new labour-rights law.

Rather than stop the abuse, Gulf officials prefer to round on their critics, accusing them of Islamophobia just as their forebears did. Oman and Saudi Arabia have long been closed to Western human-rights groups investigating the treatment of migrants. Now the UAE and Qatar, under pressure after a wave of fatalities among workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup, are keeping them out, too.

Internal protests are even riskier. Over the past two years hundreds of migrant labourers building Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim and Louvre museums have been detained, roughed up and deported, says Human Rights Watch, after strikes over unpaid wages. Aminetou Mint Moctar, a rare Mauritanian Arab on the board of SOS Esclaves, a local association campaigning for the rights of haratin, or descendants of black slaves, has received death threats.

Is it too much to hope that the Islamic clerics denouncing slavery might also condemn other instances of forced and abusive labour? Activists and Gulf migrants are doubtful. Even migrants’ own embassies can be strangely mute, not wanting criticism to curb the vital flow of remittances. When Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, visited the UAE this week, his nationals there complained that migrant rights were last on his list. Western governments generally have other priorities. One is simply to defeat IS, whose extreme revival of slavery owes at least something to the region’s persistent and pervasive tolerance of servitude.