Undying romantic impulse – The News International

The writer is an Islamabad-based columnist.

Theres a sense of deja vu when one looks at the growing discontent with the PTI government, which was inaugurated barely two years ago amid tremendous expectations.

Here is a leader who had adopted an iconoclastic stance on the economy and governance and promised to bring about a metamorphosis of the nations politico-economic landscape. But as prime minister, his popularity has nosedived; and in the eye of even many of his erstwhile staunch supporters, his governments acts of omission and commission have thrown the country into a tailspin. So what has gone wrong?

Romanticism and classicism represent the opposite poles in a perennial intellectual-cum-political divide. Classicism puts its faith in rationalism and empiricism as the reliable guide to travelling along the road to advancement and freedom. People are regarded as essentially similar everywhere, governed by the same universal laws. They only differ in how far they have travelled on the same linear road. Knowledge constitutes the only credible difference between nations or societies.

Romanticism ennobles will, sentiments, intuition or faith. In one sweep, the will can accomplish what intellect fails to do despite years of sweat and labour. Cultural differences are abiding; some nations or ethnic groups because of their inherent characteristics are destined to rule the rest.

For classicists, the fundamental condition in society is one of cooperation and consensus. Conflict and disagreement, whenever they arise, are underpinned primarily by lack of knowledge. Over time, and with pursuit of enlightened self-interest, all conflicts and all contradictions are resolved. For romanticism, by contrast, the fundamental condition in a society is one of conflict; the apparent consensus is contrived and maintained by power. Far from being an aberration of an otherwise society in concord, discord is the driving force of history and the engine of social change. Conflict is undergirded by systemic, and often irreconcilable, forces in which one side either decimates the other or gets decimated.

In politics, whereas classicism appeals to common principles, programmes and ideologies, romanticism draws strength from shared sentiments, narratives and myths. Classicism puts its trust in commonsense, natural or fundamental rights, democracy, incremental change, peaceful conflict resolution, the rule of law and institution building.

Romanticism upends this world of harmony and freedom. Democracy is regarded as a sign of decay and decadence, of senility and stupor, while the very notions of fundamental rights and equality are considered to be essentially destructive. The prime political virtue for the people is not freedom but loyalty; the principal qualification for the leader is not common sense but charisma. Rules and regulations, procedures and precedents throw a spanner in the leaders works and therefore must be set aside when needed. Debates and arguments are only wit and gossip a bourgeoisie notion in the terminology of revolutionary socialism. Its the indomitable will and emotional intelligence that make all the difference. Romantics look to men and women of destiny, who, in the words of political theorist Carl Schmitt, make decisions and create politics by defining the peoples enemies.

In both intellectual and political realms, the romantic-classic divide is unending and has produced towering figures on both sides. For every Bentham, theres a Coleridge; for every Hegel, theres a Schopenhauer; for every Churchill, theres a Hitler; and for every Chiang theres a Mao.

Where do Pakistans politics and society stand in this clash of the romantic impulse and the classic intellect? For all its shenanigans and shortcomings, Pakistan is a democracy, where at least in theory, the law of the land reigns supreme. At the same time, its a society whose infatuation with a sweeping change refuses to die down and where the cult of the personality commands a creed-like devotion. Not surprisingly, the emergence of a saviour whos capable of turning things around by sheer will and strength of character has remained a dominant theme in the socio-political narrative.

Over the years, such a narrative has produced quite a few saviours both in uniform and wearing the garb of democracy. Until a few years ago, the person who came closest to satisfying popular aspirations for the emergence of a saviour was Z A Bhutto, who sought to strike a compromise between revolutionary socialism and parliamentary democracy. The former found its expression in his flagship nationalization programme; while the latter was embodied in the 1973 constitution, which marked the continuation of the status quo. In a way, Bhutto represented a synthesis albeit a jerry-built of classic and romantic ideals. Chairman Bhutto would style himself as Pakistans Chairman Mao but he lacked the titanic personality of the founder of the Peoples Republic of China by a long way.

The fall of Bhutto in the late 1970s coincided with the advent of the Islamic revolution in Iran. The images of Ayatollah Khomeini triumphantly returning to his country having pulled down a mighty monarchy gave fresh impetus to hopes for a comparable revolutionary change in Pakistan. That said, none of Bhuttos contemporaries or successors was cast in a revolutionary mold. They might have coveted to rule with an untrammeled authority, and, as in case of Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto, might have put up a defiant face once or twice, but they didnt have the making of a revolutionary. They remained primarily concerned with saving their neck.

The rise of Imran Khan created the impression that at long last the much awaited saviour had arrived. Here was a leader who promised and seemed capable of uprooting the old, creaky, corrupt, and rotten-to-the core system; eschewing the politics of opportunism and the electables, redistributing wealth from the ultra-rich to those lying at the bottom of the economic heap, breaking the begging bowl once and for all, and making the nation stand on its feet all by his indomitable willpower and charisma.

With or without taking a leaf out of the book of Carl Schmitt, Imran Khan created politics primarily by defining the peoples enemies: the corrupt elite, which he called mafias, self-serving politicians, and rent-seeking businesspersons. Like a true romantic, he ruled out, and continues to do so, compromise with his foes. His stature both as a cricketer and a philanthropist may have helped him get a foot in the door of power. But it was the peoples disenchantment with the erstwhile political parties that provided a fertile ground for his rise. The youth impatient and impressionable as they are everywhere were particularly swept off their feet by his potent anti-corruption, anti-elite narrative. Their leader had clearly defined their enemies and it was up to them to strike the final blow.

But so far the expectations of national rejuvenation have turned out to be a pipedream. Whether its embracing the electables and the tried and tested, announcing a tax amnesty, shedding reliance on foreign credit, curbing the powers of mafias or frequent administrative reshuffle at the top, Imran Khan has come a cropper in leading politics or governance off the beaten track. Worse, the sharp deceleration of economic growth and a perennial narrow fiscal space have thrown a wrench into the works of the government relating to job creation, income generation and price control the ultimate test of a government in the eye of the electorate. All these have combined to make craters in the ruling partys popularity.

Imran Khans supporters defend the below par performance of his government by arguing that the system is too thoroughly out of whack as to be set right in a couple of years and that if the nation is patient enough the indefatigable will of their leader would do wonders and whup the common enemies. They may have a point. The problem, however, is that once the sentiments of the people are whipped up so and their expectations are raised sky high, expecting them to be patient, though it may sound logical, is a tall order. Remember, rationality is a perfect stranger in the land of the romantics. In such circumstances, the leaders popularity is bound to come down with a thud.

Both romanticism and classicism have their merits and demerits. The success of romanticism requires above all a titanic figure; and even such a figure may in the end fall. In a nation where pygmies are cast as giants, its better to put ones money on classic ideals: incremental change, institution building and rule of law. At the same time, fascination with romantic notions is difficult to cast aside for long. Lets wait with bated breath for the next saviour.

Email: [emailprotected]

Twitter: @hussainhzaidi

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Undying romantic impulse - The News International

Tenerife: A tale of two islands – The New European

PUBLISHED: 09:00 12 July 2020

Emma Luck

The modern architecture concert hall Auditorio de Tenerife in Santa Cruz. Picture: Getty Images

2011 EyesWideOpen

For many, Tenerife is synonymous with beachside package holidays. But, as EMMA LUCK explains, thats only half the islands story.

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So vast is the tourism industry that has sprung up on Tenerife that it can at least from afar obscure a quite different side to the island.

But as this domineering sector has grown and utterly transformed the largest of the Canary Islands, so have efforts been made to safeguard its distinctive historical and cultural identity. The solution has been to effectively split the island in two.

This has seen the southern end establish itself as one of Europes most popular destinations, where visitors primarily from the north of the continent flock year-round to enjoy the warm climate and home-from-home facilities. This tourist boom has, of course, generated phenomenal revenues but the south has paid a high price by losing an element of its own Spanish identity to cater to its visitors, with more generic activities such as water sports, boat trips and theme parks.

The north, meanwhile, has been quietly getting on with a cultural evolution of a more Canarian nature. It has managed to establish a more successful symbiosis and its own cultural relevance hasnt been surrendered to the might of tourism.

There is no epic distance between the lower and upper portions of Tenerife. Only 47 miles separate the jam-packed beaches and giant hotels of Playa de las Americas and the capital Santa Cruz but there is minimal crossover, and the one feels a world away from the other.

It was not always thus. Before tourism came to dominate, the island was a much more homogenous entity, united by a very specific culture which stretched back through the centuries.

It was the fair-haired Guanches and their legendary mencey (kings) who first really stamped their mark on Tenerife. They arrived on the archipelago during the first millennium BC and are descended from the Berber tribes of North Africa.

The Guanches ruled over the Atlantic and established trade routes with the Romans. Their religion was polytheistic although the cult of the dead was also prominent; their practices included the mummification of the deceased, excellent examples of which can be found in the islands museums.

Their long rule finally ended in 1496 when, after four years of conflict, the Guanche kings and their warriors were finally overwhelmed by the Spanish. Tenerife had been the last of the Canary Islands to be conquered and had taken the longest to submit to the Castilian troops.

Conquest meant a new era for the island. San Cristbal de la Laguna, widely held to be the islands most beautiful city, was established at this time and became the capital. Declared a World Heritage site in 1999, the northern city has the pick of the historic sites, including the 16th century Royal Sanctuary Church and the 1904 Cathedral of San Cristbal de La Laguna. The city is also home to the University of La Laguna, the establishment of which made it the archipelagos first university city.

It yielded to Santa Cruz, also in the north of the island, in the 1700s due to a declining economy and population, and the port city eventually became the capital of Tenerife and the Canary Islands, a status which it now shares with Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria.

During these centuries, the island was well placed to capitalise on the bountiful trade routes that crisscrossed the surrounding ocean. Its strategic position also made it a tempting target for Spains enemies. Lord Nelson lost an arm during an unsuccessful attempt to take Tenerife during the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. And the great man was not alone in failing to wrest the island from its inhabitants. A task force led by Sir Walter Raleigh had come up short a century earlier.

This independent spirit and arms length rule from Spain which lay several days sailing away may have been a factor in the burgeoning cultural scene for which Tenerife became known. Many of the islands earliest creatives benefitted from a greater level of freedom than their counterparts in mainland Spain who were caught more directly in the gaze of the all-powerful Catholic monarchy.

As the more developed part of the island closer to Spain and those vital trade routes, and an altogether more hospitable location than the drier, more arid south, the undefended coast of which was vulnerable to pirates the northern area became its cultural epicentre.

The first centre for painting was in La Laguna, with the earliest protagonists setting up their easels there in the 16th century. As the movement developed, other schools opened in La Orotava, Puerto de la Cruz and Santa Cruz, which became a key hub not only for the exchange not only of goods but of ideas and culture, thanks to its port.

Valentin Sanz, born in Santa Cruz in 1849, was the earliest known landscape painter in the Canary Islands. Yet his career shows that while a remote and isolated island location can foster artistic talent, that same remoteness and isolation can also be a limiting factor. Like many Tinerfenos, Sanz had to leave the region to drive his career forward. He studied in Seville and Madrid, and worked as a professor in the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts in Cuba. His work tackles the issue of light and colour with great character, closing in on impressionism. Some of his work is displayed at the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts of Santa Cruz, including El Paisaje de La Laguna (The Landscape of La Laguna).

The close of the 19th century saw Realism and Impressionism cohabiting with strains of Romanticism that could still be seen in the works of some artists on the island. The first recorded impressionist painter on the island was Juan Rodriguez Botas (1880-1917).

He progressed from the early work done by Sanz and adopted the style that was then sweeping France. Santa Cruz-born Francisco Bonnn Guern (1874-1963), on the other hand, was a master of watercolours to such an extent that he created his own school of landscape painting and founded the influential Association of Canary Watercolour Painters, many of whose members followed his technique and won awards.

As for the most famous of the islands artists, that title sits well upon the shoulders of Oscar Dominguez (1906-1957). Considered one of Spains greatest surrealist painters after Mir, Dal and Picasso, Dominguez left a large and highly personal collection of work which is displayed throughout the island. Although he ended up in Paris, his work is heavily influenced by his Tinerfeno heritage and is peppered with Canarian references such as mountains and the native dragon tree.

Alongside its distinct artistic heritage, Tenerife also developed its own literary culture. This emerged from an oral storytelling tradition in the mid-15th century, which evolved over time towards different genres such as epic poetry, Baroque aesthetics, Neoclassical prose and Romanticism. In this evolution, it was slightly behind the curve of European artistic trends, due primarily to the sheer distance it lay from the rest of the continent.

Despite this, Tenerifes rich literary seam has produced several notable authors. Antonio de Viana was born in La Laguna in 1578 and his epic poem Antiguedades de las Islas Afortunadas (Antiques of the Fortunate Islands) was an ode to the Guanches and tells of the conquest of Tenerife by Spain. It offers a wealth of historical information about this pivotal period.

Later, in the 18th century, the enlightenment saw a vibrant cultural movement spring up on the island which lasted into the 20th century and beyond.

Many of its members were united by the fact that they found themselves in conflict with the Catholic church or central government over their beliefs:

Writer Jose Viera y Clavijo (1731-1813) established himself at the heart of this creative movement where he was able to reconcile his faith and personal beliefs with the reality as described by science. Also a priest, his rationalism led him to clash with the church. His work covers all literary genres but he spent two decades working on his masterpiece Noticias (News), a wide-ranging history of the Canary Islands which described the origin, character and customs of its ancient inhabitants and their conquest by the Europeans.

Neoclassical writer, poet and native of Puerto de la Cruz, Tomas de Iriarte (1750-1791), was one of the first dramatists to bring the Neoclassical style to a wider audience. Universally celebrated as the author of Fabulas literarias (Literary fables) his later years were dogged by controversy and in 1786 he was reported to the Inquisition for his sympathies with the French philosophers.

Considered the father of Catalan theatre, Santa Cruz-born playwright ngel Guimer (1845-1924) was nominated a staggering 23 times for the Nobel Prize in Literature but never won due to political pressure from Spains central government. After moving back to his fathers birthplace in Catalonia, he wrote a number of plays including Tierra baja (Lowlands) and Mar y cielo (Sea and Sky) which were translated into other languages and performed abroad. He proved to be instrumental in the revival of Catalan as a literary language in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His birthplace paid tribute by naming the main theatre of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the oldest on the Canary Islands, after him.

By the age of 14, La Laguna-born novelist, dramatist and poet Mercedes Pinto had made a name for herself, becoming known as the Canarian Poetess. Her most famous work, the semi-autobigraphical l (This Strange Passion), was adapted for the big screen by the film-maker Luis Buuel. Her pursuit of a feminist agenda led to conflict with the Catholic church and she was forced to live most of her life outside Spain.

These themes of art and literature clashing with conservatism are not unique to Tenerife, or to Spain, of course. And the island has not managed to escape the most destructive forces of reaction. The Canary Islands fell to the nationalists in 1936 and a mass execution of Francos opponents in Tenerife followed, an atrocity that led many Tinerfeos to relocate to Latin America.

Francos dictatorship had a suppressive effect on Tenerifes cultural life, but did not snuff it out. The years of his rule also saw significant advances in the islands tourism industry.

Its attraction to overseas visitors was nothing new. Back in the late 1800s, tourism had been centred on northern Tenerife, with well-heeled Europeans heading there to escape their freezing winters.

With very little seasonal variation, the year-round mild climate and clear air were promoted as offering a variety of health benefits. It quickly became the main source of revenue with Puerto de la Cruz the first city to develop as a leisure destination as the earliest visitors arrived by steamer into the port at Santa Cruz.

During her visit in 1927 when she fled to the island two months after her infamous 11-day disappearance, Agatha Christie, was inspired to finish her novels The Mystery of the Blue Train and The Mysterious Mr Quinn.

As travel was revolutionised in the second half of the 20th century, however, the focus moved dramatically from the north to the south of the island.

The northern end has a noticeably higher rainfall because of its proximity to Mount Teide, Tenerifes own volcano. The hotter, drier south was therefore more attractive for the new generation of jet-setting tourists who were able to arrive at, and move around, the island more easily than in the past. Whats more, the area was far less developed than the north, so offered greater opportunities for the construction of mega resorts such as Playa de Las Americas and Los Cristianos.

George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney helped put the island on the tourism map when they went on holiday in Tenerife after releasing their first album in 1963. They blended happily into the crowds of foreign visitors and were able to enjoy their last holiday undisturbed by bodyguards, fans and the press.

As the number of visitors grew, the often fog-bound Los Rodeos (Tenerife North) airport was under great strain. In 1977, 583 people were killed when two Boeing 747 jets collided on a foggy runway, in the deadliest accident in aviation history.

The following year, Reina Sofia airport (Tenerife South) opened. It now handles around 90% of visitors to the island, dwarfing its northern counterpart, and has cemented the separation of Tenerifes north and south and utterly transformed its tourism economy.

The sector may have threatened, at times since, to overwhelm the islands cultural character, but it has never succeeded. Indeed, in recent years, the distinct artistic identity of the northern end of the island has been further strengthened by a wave of architectural innovation that is apparent in many major art and music venues.

The dramatic white building on Santa Cruzs waterfront is unmissable. Its roof soars 58 metres over the main auditorium and then curves downwards, narrowing to a point like a crashing Atlantic wave. This is the Tenerife Concert Hall, a focal point for the norths lively arts programme. It is home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra and has welcomed guest soloists of the calibre of Plcido Domingo to cement its reputation as a national and international benchmark orchestra. The renowned pera de Tenerife is also based there.

Tucked alongside the Barranco de Santos ravine in Santa Cruz stands the Tenerife Arts Centre (TEA -Tenerife Espacio de las Artes). It works effectively as a catalyst, connecting the daily life of Santa Cruz with the islands art and culture. It houses a permanent exhibition of the works of Tenerifes own scar Domnguez and has exhibited pieces by Andy Warhol and Henry Moore.

The buildings diagonal elements and sloping floors showcase a contemporary space designed by the Canaries-born Virgilio Gutirrez Herreros and Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron who were responsible for Londons Tate Modern.

Today, the island seems to have made peace with its informal divide. It reaps the financial benefits from its southern resorts while maintaining its identity and historical narrative via its cultural stronghold in the north. Could this offer a blueprint for tourism elsewhere and avoid cultural heritage being lost forever to a fast tourist buck...?

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Tenerife: A tale of two islands - The New European

Chile and the Perils of Technocracy – National Review

Chiles President Sebastin Piera delivers a speech in Santiago, Chile, January 29, 2020.(Edgard Garrido/Reuters)In the midst of a pandemic, the possibility of a government led by experts looks more attractive than ever. But the Chilean experience should make us weary of technocratic promises.

On paper, Chile is Latin Americas most developed economy and most stable democracy. In less than 40 years, the country went from being one of the poorest nations in the region to having the highest GDP per capita on the continent. Unlike many of its South American counterparts, the Chilean government has embraced free markets and implemented business-friendly tax and labor-market reforms. While these policies have exacerbated inequalities, the proportion of the population living below the poverty line has decreased from 52 percent in 1987 to less than 5 percent in 2019. In short, until recently at least, Chile was a shiny example of successful modernization, efficient neoliberalism, and competent governance.

This state of affairs might be due to the composition of Chiles government. After the fall of military dictator Augusto Pinochet, the country moved away from totalitarianism and adopted broadly liberal norms. When Chilean President Sebastin Piera began his second term in 2018, he made sure to assemble a cabinet that would look just like him. Piera, a Harvard-educated economist and billionaire, gathered a team of foreign-educated technocrats ready to address the countrys most pressing challenges with tact and data. Welcoming the influence of renowned academics, Piera even partnered with American political theorist John Tomasi, a brilliant professor at Brown University whose research focuses on the intersection between social justice and free markets. In his work Free Market Fairness, Tomasi draws on moral insights from defenders of economic liberty such as F. A. Hayek and advocates of social justice such as John Rawls. Synthesising the two antagonistic traditions, Tomasi presents a new theory of justice. This theory, free-market fairness, is committed to both limited government and the material betterment of the poor. For Piera, Tomasis innovative conception of bleeding-heart libertarianism represented an ideal to be attained.

And Piera did manage to reconcile efficiency and equity in the first few years of his presidency. Consider the example of the Chilean education system, which Pinochet had decentralized and largely privatized. In 2011, Piera upheld the countrys reliance on school choice and per-student subsidies (vouchers) to promote competition among schools. Weary of growing inequalities, however, the Chilean president founded a $4 billion fund to increase the availability of university scholarships and ease interest rates on government-backed student loans. The results were clear: Test scores improved for students from all socio-economic groups, even if privileged students benefited the most. Yet the government failed to defend its reforms before the Chilean people. Despite Pieras empirical success, the country was torn apart by a series of riots and demonstrations demanding radical changes in education policy.

This failure marked the beginning of a pattern. One after the other, Pieras reforms proved efficient but disproportionally beneficial to the wealthy. Naturally, inequality need not matter as long as the rising tide lifts all boats; to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, only the most ardent socialists would rather have the poor poorer provided the rich were less rich. But this growing sense of disparity required a strong response on the part of the Chilean government. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan managed to handle concerns surrounding growing inequalities because they were fine rhetoricians who defended the workings of the invisible hand with fire and tact. Unfortunately, Piera and his cabinet were no firebrand statesmen; they were a pack of academics, experts, and technocrats who thought that numbers would eventually speak for themselves.

But they did not. At the end of 2019, to the great astonishment of virtually every foreign commentator, Chile descended into a state of chaos. As had happened many times elsewhere in South America, an increase in public-transportation fees provoked a wave of public outrage, one that quickly degenerated into a series of protests and riots. But this particular reaction was remarkable insofar as its causes did not seem to warrant the violence. The 3.75 percent fee increase was only marginally higher than inflation, and wages had been going up consistently for 10 years. Further, while transportation did represent up to 20 percent of yearly expenses for the poorest Chileans, this percentage had been going down for more than a decade. As for the general state of the economy, the government had kept inflation under control, stimulated job creation, and maintained a GDP growth of about 3 percent.

Once more, the only tangible cause of the unrest was the Chilean governments total inability to move beyond spreadsheets and talk to its people. Not only did the transportation minister take more than a week to respond, but her eventual intervention was filled with technical details about macroeconomics and long-run cost-benefit analyses. By the end of the week, the Chilean people realized what their government was really made of namely, a panoply of English-speaking upper-middle-class intellectuals and business leaders who had no fraternal ties to the populace.

Why would a people choose to revolt against a government that has made their nation better off than at any time in its history? Perhaps because politics is not what John Stuart Mill called a marketplace of ideas, that is, an antechamber of objectivity where perfectly rational human beings engage in Enlightenment-style discourse. Despite Mills best efforts, man is not a rational animal. In fact, we could draw parallels between the failures of the Chilean government and Edmund Burkes astringent portrayal of the French National Assembly after the 1789 Revolution. For Burke, the French parliament was filled with lawyers and technocrats devoid of practical experience who would turn politics into a set of theoretical abstractions. The 18th-century statesman and philosopher reiterated this point in his Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs:

Nothing universal can be rationally affirmed on any moral or any political subject. Pure metaphysical abstraction does not belong to these matters. The lines of morality are not like the ideal lines of mathematics. They are broad and deep as well as long. They admit of exceptions; they demand modifications. These exceptions and modifications are not made by the process of logic, but by the rules of prudence.

Burke understood that politics is a world filled with indignation and uproar, a universe of shouting, growling, and protesting. Perceived inequalities matter at least as much as actual inequalities, and the fundamental role of the statesman is to master popular perceptions, control their excesses, and temper the disenchantment of the populace with care and prudence. No matter how brilliant and needed technocrats may be, they will never fulfil the demands of Burkean prudence. Experts such as Piera and his neoliberal companions suffer from years of isolation within the well-insulated walls of academia and airport business lounges. And to say as much need not make one an avid admirer of populists. Real statesmanship lies between demagoguery and detached rationalism, between hyperbolic injunctions and jargon-heavy analyses, between personality-based politics and non-existent leadership.

Chiles response to the coronavirus further illustrates the statesmantechnocrat distinction. Four months ago, the world lauded Chile for its surgical approach to the pandemic. Leaving the matter in the hands of experts, Pieras government implemented wide-ranging testing programs and strict neighborhood lockdowns. In appearance, Pieras calculations were impeccable; strong measures would rapidly vanquish the virus, and the economy would re-start in peace. But the Chilean government rapidly encountered a simple problem: Trapped in overpopulated neighborhoods, Chiles poor could not afford to stay in their houses. In the end, poverty, overcrowding, and a massive off-the-books workforce overcame the governments response. Today, Chile has one of the worlds highest rates of per-capita infections, and its once-praised health minister has been forced to resign.

But what is most interesting about the Chilean situation is that Pieras government, despite conducting a myriad of data-driven studies, did not have the common sense required to realize that its response to the pandemic was incompatible with the day-to-day life of most Chileans. Responding to Bloombergs reporters, Diego Pardow, executive president of the Espacio Pblico think tank, declared: If the government is going to make decisions about a world it doesnt know, then it should include people from that world in the decision-making process. The problem with this government is that it just surrounds itself with its own people.

Naturally, this type of criticism could apply to any kind of disconnected elite. But there is a world of difference between Pieras government and, say, the 18th-century landed aristocracy that Burke praises in his Reflections. While traditional elites were grounded in local traditions and community-specific bonds, Piera embodies a new kind of technocratic establishment that is neither culturally nor socio-economically close to the people it governs. While the pandemic should certainly make us reflect upon the importance of scientific leadership, Chiles dreadful state of affairs acts as a handy reminder that behind the veil of graphs and spreadsheets, governance remains a deeply political matter that requires statesmanship, not abstract competence.

In the Republic, Plato proposes to raise the sons and daughters of the citys guardians along with everybody elses children; this way, Plato argues, subjects and rulers will share common cultural references and life experiences. While we need not agree with what Karl Popper called Platos totalitarian blueprint, the Greek philosophers aspiration to form generations of leaders rooted in the traditions of their community should inspire us to do away with all kinds of technocratic dreams.

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Chile and the Perils of Technocracy - National Review

The imminent brumby cull in the Australian alps – Sydney Morning Herald

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Its just after 8am on the Nunniong Plains in Victorias high country when professional horse-breaker Lewis Benedetti, atop a big grey thoroughbred named Stones, trots out of the bush leading a raggedy black foal on a rope.

Were on an open plain of snow grass and tussock, five hours east of Melbourne, and the wind is unforgivingly cold. A frigid stream cuts through the field, gurgling under a layer of ice as thick as toast.

The little black horse a wild or feral horse, Equus caballus, also known as a brumby tugs at the rope Benedetti tossed around his neck mere moments ago. Its a skill the 30-year-old horseman honed in nearby Buchan as a child from when he was nine, lassoing his letterbox after school.

The captured foal whinnies, nostrils huffing mountain air. And he bucks clumsily, jumping at everything and nothing, like an obstinate puppy. Hes furrier than you might imagine. Fluffy almost, with a white rectangle on his forehead.

Professional horse-breaker Lewis Benedetti emerges from the Nunniong Plains bush with a wild colt. Credit:Josh Robenstone

For retraining, this is the size you want, brother! Benedetti hollers from the saddle. He comes to state forest areas like this in his spare time to go brumby running chasing wild horses to domesticate and rehome. When theyre too old, mate, theyre too hard to train. But hes just right.

Weve been up for hours, eyeing mobs of mares in the darkness, and three black stallions at dawn. Benedetti found this colt in a glade between snow gums. Caught him like you would not believe. Easy as piss, he says, grinning. Lets get him back to camp, eh.

Around the fire now, Benedetti pours his coffee, scalding hot from the billy, and the morning sun melts away the last of the crunchy overnight frost. Why do I do this? he asks, nonplussed. The adrenalin is unreal. To catch a wild horse pretty good feeling, eh? Youve gotta get set, be fit, have your horse fit, know what youre doing. Then come back for a feed at the fire. What better life is there than that?

As I stoke the coals and our eggs sizzle in popping bacon fat, its hard to argue. But there is, however, another more urgent reason Benedetti is here. Hes catching brumbies today not just for recreation but because of what might happen this winter.

That little pony will make someone really happy, says Benedetti, who might be able to sell this pretty brumby for $500, or just give it away. But see, theres only two options for him now. He can come home with me, or he can stay here and get shot.

This is not an exaggeration. A brumby cull is coming. Its long overdue.


Thousands of wild horses are trampling the alpine wilderness of Victoria and NSW wreaking havoc on heritage-listed ecosystems, pugging up fragile water catchment areas and threatening the habitats of native species. Theyve been doing so for more than a century, of course, but the fight to be rid of these horses which are, technically, non-native ungulate pests has intensified in recent years.

In May 2018, NSW deputy premier John Barilaro introduced his brumby bill (The Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill), which formally recognised the historical significance of the brumbies, protecting them from slaughter. (It became law the following month.)

Later that year, a brumby advocacy group launched a Federal Court action to prevent a trapping and culling program by Parks Victoria. Those two actions produced a two-year stay of execution an amnesty in which the animals multiplied. Current estimates put their population at 25,000 in the alps of both states alarming, given the vast swaths of national park that burnt last summer.

Demography is destiny. Numbers are everything. And its going to get to the stage where without culling the problem is unsolvable, says retired CSIRO botanist Dick Williams. The situation demands a dramatic correction, he says, quoting a maxim often attributed to British economist John Maynard Keynes: When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Parks Victoria decided enough was enough. Having finally won its case in May, an immediate plan was announced to cull hundreds of horses using expert ground snipers with thermal imaging and noise suppressors.

It provoked an emotional outcry, and Andrew Cox of Australias Invasive Species Council understands why. Nobody wants to shoot horses, Cox says. People plead, There must be a better way because its horrible, yes. But Im sorry, there is no better way.

A problem with no easy solution, the brumby conundrum raises complicated questions of environmental science and agricultural management, while skirting delicate facets of animal welfare and our own colonial mythology.

Benedetti plans to train the young brumby, and either sell it or give it away. That little pony will make someone really happy.Credit:Josh Robenstone

Naturally, the issue has become yet another skirmish in the culture wars, pitting greenie against grazier, science against lore, rationalism against ideology. There are two irreconcilable and intractable sides to explore in this debate, but lets start with the horsemen in the high country.

In mid-May I head to the sleepy hamlet of Omeo, an hour north-west of Nunniong, to visit Jim Flannagan, 87, whose family has been farming the region since 1856. We shelter from a biting rain in his lounge room, near his rodeo trophies and show ribbons. He wears denim and flannel and has huge hands with waxen skin. I was a very capable horseman, he says, tipping his head. I dont mind an old boast on that one.

On the issue of brumbies theres no hysteria: merely a few points he wants to get off his chest. Theyve bred up to the extent that they are overpopulated, Flannagan concedes. No matter what the animal, youve gotta have a culling rate. But you do it humanely. Trap them, he says, and take them out of the park, even down to the knackery in nearby Maffra. Better that than leaving corpses in the bush for the wild dogs or feral pigs to eat. Shoot a horse, and a sow with nine piglets will have a feast, he says. Its gonna make them real healthy. Then youve got another problem.

Flannagan has that enviable rural pragmatism, but I want to hear the romantic history, riding into the hills as a young man to catch buckjumpers and maneaters. There are beautiful black-and-white films of such musters, and Flannagan was the star of one: the 1965 documentary Buckrunners about a world of canvas swags and yodelling mountain music.

Away youd go on a Friday afternoon, up the bush. It was big-time fun. Big-time! he says, closing his eyes. It was glorious country. Riding up onto the Bogong High Plains on a beautiful day, you grow to 10 foot tall. Waiting by makeshift stockyards, the anticipation built before he heard the hooves. Here they come, whispers Flannagan. Sound carries a long way up there, and the horse youre sitting on hello he can sense it, too. His ears prick up, he trembles. He knows the actions on.


I want to see this for myself, so I leave Flannagan and drive north-west for an hour to the Bundara River in Anglers Rest, where Victorian Liberal MP Bill Tilley is waiting by his caravan. Hes here to support an audacious plan to save the brumbies by catching them, then giving them sanctuary on private land until theres a change of government.

As night falls, Tilley clarifies: This plan to go out and indiscriminately slaughter horses without proper consultation is why people are outraged. Theres a deep mistrust here says the member for Benambra, without irony of government. You cannot manage our parks from a desktop in Nicholson Street, Melbourne. Youve gotta resource people on the ground, and communicate and consult, with those who live it and breathe it every day.

The brumby thus becomes a cause to be harnessed in the fight against change imposed from the state capital. To members of the resistance, the expanding ski resort at nearby Mt Hotham is a scar on the hill, a proposed mountain bike trail in Omeo is a misuse of grazing property, and keeping cattle out of national parks is locking up the land.

You want to talk about destruction? Look at people, pleads Ensay farmer Carol Faithfull. Walking tracks of wood and steel. Ripping up tracks with four-wheel drives. Campsite areas that are just trashed. I camp later with Faithfull and her partner, Charles Connley, in forest to the south. People believe this is a disaster area, but we dont believe that, Connley says. Look around you.

A brook bubbles nearby. Thin moss clings to mottled branches. Im sipping beer and eating a crispy sausage with my fingers, while a fire pit crackles with mountain ash, the embers floating up into the dark where that old chandelier the Milky Way galaxy dazzles down. Theres a tall tree with a plaque in memory of an old bushie who used to chase brumbies here. Nailed to the trunk is a cross with an upturned horseshoe and a carved message: Living the dream.

People here fear that getting rid of the brumby is just the first step in something bigger, warns Connley. We think what they want to do is get rid of recreational riding, and remove the horses from the landscape altogether.

Yet perhaps the biggest point of contention is the brumby population estimate, which was based on a 2019 aerial survey covering 7443 square kilometres of Victoria and NSW, and used statistical modelling to determine brumby density. Opponents believe such estimates are compromised that the bushfires last summer would have dramatically thinned the population.

In search of brumbies: a survey estimates the Victorian and NSW wild horse population to be more than 25,000.Credit:Josh Robenstone

Many celebrity brumbies have already disappeared, like the magnificent stallion Paleface and his son Bogong, and their herds in the Kiandra region. The survey spotters also only laid eyes on 1748 actual brumbies, so the estimated total (25,318) includes what the sceptics call an imaginary 23,570 wild horses.

Connley puts it best: If you wanted to guess the population of Victoria, you wouldnt fly over the MCG on grand final day, and extrapolate your numbers from the people gathered on one acre in Melbourne.

It might snow tonight, 1497 metres above sea level on the Bogong High Plains, but Philip Maguire, who owns land below us, leans back in a camp chair, cloaked in his Drizabone, and comfortably holds court, reciting his own poetry.

I was born here in the mountains, where the life is wild and free, And I love the rugged beauty, theres just nowhere else for me. From their snowy peaks in winter to the summer sunlit plains, The splendour of the flowers in the gentle soaking rains.

He continues, deeper and deeper into a ballad of joyous unrestricted gallops and whistling winds, all from memory. But nearing the end his tone shifts, abruptly, to a lament. Traditions are under threat. Malevolent forces are pushing horsemen off the hills.

The next generations, they too have a right, To a life riding free, same as us. Not to be lackeys and carry the bags, when the tourists arrive in a bus. I can tame a wild stallion or face a wild bull, I can handle a wild rushing mob. But arguing politics isnt my game, I just cant handle the job.

Its a salty last line, but not quite true. Maguire, you see, is a political animal. A former journalist for the Sunday Herald Sun, he wrote that poem in 1984, when he was a senior adviser to Peter Ross-Edwards then leader of the Victorian National Party the same year he helped organise the famous protest in which 304 mounted graziers converged on Melbournes Parliament House.

Anti-culling activist Philip Maguire, who is taking the brumby cause to the High Court. Credit:Josh Robenstone

Some people disparage the 60-year-old as a showman or a milk bar cowboy, but to the brumby cause he is a volatile messiah, with huge support, not least through the Rural Resistance Facebook page he established where many of the 23,000 members refer to him as the leader of The Maguire Army. He launched his own 11th-hour Supreme Court injunction a few weeks ago to prevent the cull, claiming a lack of community consultation. The Victorian court swiftly dismissed his appeal, but his supporters see him as a man who acts. He has already solicited $250,000 in donations to keep fighting, all the way to the High Court.

There is a touch of PT Barnum in him, too. This plan to give wild horses sanctuary was his, and it brought me up here as well as the ABC, the Herald Sun and The New York Times. When I told one old bushie the plan, at first he laughed. Phil? Phils a bloody hopeless horseman! Couldnt ride a black horse out of sight at midnight! he roared. Then he turned reflective: But he knows how to get people interested.

Theyll have an uprising on their hands. Were not going to stand for it any more.

We go for a walk the next day, and come to the ancient stockyard where farmers used to muster cattle and brumbies. Its all charred now, and Maguire blames the Labor government for cultural vandalism and not managing the land (by allowing grazing up here, to reduce fuel load). If I had Daniel Andrews here right now, Id fing deck him, Maguire spits. Id drop him.

That has nothing to do with the brumby, of course, but up here grievances past and present grow entangled as one. Maguire is gathering names for a petition, for instance, with thousands of people stating that they no longer recognise Parks Victoria as a legitimate authority. Theyll have an uprising on their hands, he broods. Were not gonna stand for it any more.

This is not specific to Maguire. Exasperated advocates for the brumby cause often turn to opprobrium, rumour and conspiracy theory. If brumby sightings are down in a given week? Culls probably begun. If they see disturbed earth? Could be a mass grave.

To some, particularly online, the reason for the cull is obvious: Dictator Dan is trying to drive all horsemen off the land in a shadowy scheme to sell public land for a ski resort owned by Chinese nationals. On a recent morning after The Age printed a look at the science behind the issue, a lobbyist emailed me in a rage. Why has your colleague produced such a one-sided bullshit article? she wrote. Its propaganda shit again.

The Maguire family emerge out of the regrowth at the back of the property in the Bogong High Plains. Credit:Josh Robenstone

The Great Alpine Road unspools slowly, patiently hugging the hills, leaping Swifts Creek and the Haunted Stream. Five hours later Im in Melbourne, where Ive come to meet more brumby huggers in Treasury Gardens. A demonstration is in full swing, protesters holding posters of big-eyed brumbies in rifle crosshairs, because #brumbylivesmatter.

The crowd of about 200 is 95 per cent female, which one woman at the rally attributes to Black Beauty and My Little Pony. Horse-breaker Angel Tanner from Narrandera, NSW, thinks there are simply two ways of tackling the same problem. Theres the romance of The Man from Snowy River, and the cracks and cowboys the fantasy, says Tanner, who has thin dreadlocks and a nose ring. And then theres the women presenting and petitioning in a peaceful manner.

Jill Pickering, 73, surveys the scene from her mobility scooter. It doesnt buck, she jokes in a British accent. Pickering grew up in Woking, in south-west England, and contracted polio at nine. Horse-riding was part of the regimen used to build strength in her legs. She was 60 when she saw her first brumby, on a horseback trek in Victoria. I was just captivated, she says, blue eyes gleaming. It was incredible.

Brumby advocate Jill Pickering. She was 60 when she saw her first brumby, on a horseback trek in Victoria. I was just captivated.Credit:Josh Robenstone

Saving this part of our national psyche became a calling. She helped found the Australian Brumby Alliance to bring together disparate advocacy bodies, became president, and in late 2018 launched the Federal Court action to save the animals. We speak the week after that case is lost, costing her about $400,000. Shes devastated. But like any worthy cause, you just have to keep pushing, she says. Its like the brumbies are my children anyway my inheritance is their inheritance.

She introduces me at the rally to Colleen OBrien, who runs Brumby Junction a sanctuary solely for brumbies, two hours west of Melbourne in Glenlogie. Its a prohibitively expensive passion project. Ive been a full-time volunteer for 12 years, OBrien says. My husband thankfully is CEO of an international synthetic textiles manufacturer, and he funds all of this.

One of her main causes and cause for disappointment is a rejected plan to sterilise the brumbies. OBrien has made trips to the United States, investigating successful fertility control programs for mustangs in Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado. You do it with a dart gun, then 12 months later you dart them a second time, and they wont have a foal for two years, she says. In Wyoming theres a woman whos 80, named Ada. She pulls out her deck chair, sets herself up with her thermos of tea, waits for the mustangs, and just picks them off as they pass.

Colleen OBrien, who runs Brumby Junction a sanctuary solely for brumbies, two hours west of Melbourne in Glenlogie at a Save The Brumby protest at Parliment House in Melbourne.Credit:Josh Robenstone

OBrien took this plan to Parks Victoria, offering to cover costs, volunteer staffing, and research engagement, but was turned down. She sees this as ideologically driven stubbornness, and it leaves her doubting the experts. I didnt realise how subjective science could be, she muses. It can go either way, a bit like the Bible. Is it An eye for an eye? Or is it Thou shalt not kill?

Its for that reason that the pro-brumby team found its own scientist. David Berman is a research fellow in sustainable agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland, and has written extensively on feral horses. This year he began a longitudinal study on horses in the Victorian high country, examining 16 sites from a previous survey, counting horse-dung mounds and measuring stream bank damage.

It wont be finished until 2024, but the impact he recorded was limited and isolated. The other research seemed to focus on areas where there was impact, where it was concentrated, Berman says, and it distorts the reality of the damage.

Berman is a horseman, however a showjumper since he was a child and admits that in these circumstances he is trying to be a scientist: objective within an emotional conflict. His contribution was dismissed in Federal Court by Justice Michael OBryan, who described his testimony as idiosyncratic conjecture: The evidence presented by Dr Berman was not supported by scientific studies and was not persuasive.

Botanist Dick Williams. He says it's the denial of science that "irks him most". Credit:Josh Robenstone

One scientist whose work the court did find persuasive, however, is botanist Dick Williams. We meet one brisk morning at Elwood Beach, as he strides out of Port Phillip Bay in fluorescent Speedos not exactly the ivory-tower egghead his opponents might imagine. Mate, were bushies, Williams says, clenching fists. We get out and up there, and are as tough and self-sufficient as anybody. Weve gotta be, because we spend long periods of time in the alps.

He loves the place, and the people, too. But science has to work hard against tales passed down from one farmer to the next, and the deep sense of proprietorship those stories engender. While I was in the high country, for instance, I watched in horror as a local grazier named Sonia Buckley filming a documentary about brumbies tore strips off a Good Weekend photographer over the most minor imagined slight.

Im a fifth-generation high-country cattlewoman! she barked, pointing a finger. And we dont need people from the city coming up here, treating us with disrespect. So f off home!

Williams nods. Thats their branding, he says. But we have that heritage, too. Alpine science started in the 1850s with Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, and from there you can draw a research lineage through Alfred Howitt in the 1870s, Richard Helms in the 1890s, then Professor John Turner, who supervised David Ashton, who in turn supervised Williams himself. Williams has mentored scientists of his own, who are now supervising students of their own. In a way, he says, Im an academic grandfather.

Energised by his winter dip, Williams is ready to offer rebuttals. I point out how cattlemen often dismiss the value of moss beds and sphagnum whatevers, or mock the broad-toothed rat, whose existence is threatened by the brumby along with the stocky galaxias fish and the southern corroboree frog. Theyre not as flashy as a horse jumping over a log, says Williams, but these species have their own intrinsic value, and some are as rare as rocking-horse poo.

But the denial of science is what irks him most. If we ran agriculture, transport or medicine according to the dismissive, anecdotal logic being used here, wed starve, planes would fall from the sky, and the hospitals would be full. Its like the ludicrous notions of anti-vaxxers theyre immune to evidence. Australians produce 2 per cent of the worlds science, which is punching massively above our weight. Were smarter than saying, Green tops and white-coaters dont know anything about the bush. Were better than that.

Im not sure we are. The image of a man on horseback, pinching the front of his Akubra, seems to pack more punch than any peer-reviewed paper, which is why someone like Professor Don Driscoll, director of the Centre for Integrative Ecology at Melbournes Deakin University, finds himself constantly retelling grim anecdotes like the tale of the cannibal horses.

Driscoll was hiking a snowy peak in 2014, in Kosciuszko National Park, when he stumbled upon a gruesome tableau at the aptly named Dead Horse Gap. Horses often get trapped above the snowline and starve to death, so its not uncommon to see a dead brumby. Then he saw three emaciated horses gathered around the carcass. I thought they were nuzzling it, pining for a loved one, Driscoll says. But their heads were actually inside the abdominal cavity of the dead one, up to their ears. I think they were after the semi-digested grass still inside.

I point out how many high-country people reject such descriptions: there are no starving masses or trampled flora in their alps. Its very insulting, Driscoll says. One cattleman claimed there couldnt be more than 3500 horses in the alps, and thats based on what? Riding your horse around and looking? Its laughable rubbish.

Yet there are places in which brumby advocates have legitimate cause for outrage, including Parks Victorias Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan (2018-2021). The document carefully details a government plan to remove up to 400 horses per year by passive trapping, and specifically notes in bold font that shooting will not be used to control free-ranging feral horses. The plan makes an allowance to revisit that latter policy but explicitly promises further public consultation and dialogue. No such consultation has happened so far.

Phil Ingamells is head of the Victorian National Parks Associations Park Protection Project, and has been involved in endless meetings between graziers and brumby runners, RSPCA staff and ecologists, in which he says every option has been discussed, ad nauseum. Short of putting a 10-page advertisement in every newspaper, someones always going to say, No one asked me! Parks Victoria is no longer really obliged to consult.

What about the argument that deer are more prolific than horses, or that pig wallows are a more intrusive form of destruction, or that the wild dog and feral cat problem is ignored in favour of the scapegoat brumby? Its called the Look over there! argument, Ingamells says. When the cattlemen had cattle in the high country, they pointed at the brumbies as causing the damage. Now when you try to deal with the brumbies, they want you to focus on the deer. And rest assured, deer are definitely in the gunsights. More than 1500 deer, pigs and wild goats have been shot in aerial culls this year, while fox baiting continues. But theres been no aerial shooting of horses in the alps, and there will not be.

Thats an important point. Aerial culling has a bad reputation, owing largely to the infamous killing of 606 horses 20 years ago, in the NSW Guy Fawkes National Park. Fiona Carruthers, author of The Horse in Australia, saw the aftermath of the 2000 cull. She flew overhead and remembers the smell.

What was so appalling was that some of those brumbies had up to 10 bullet holes through the rump, thigh, neck not a clean kill straight into the eyes or heart. A couple of the brumbies killed were mares, and one had started foaling, and her carcass was there with the foals head dead sticking out.

An official report cleared the operation as appropriate and successful, with evidence of only one horse suffering a prolonged death, but few on the ground believe this. Aerial culling of horses has been shelved ever since. Carruthers, however, notes that we freely shoot from above to kill kangaroos and camels, and no one makes a fuss. People caring more about the horses makes me think of Animal Farm, she says. Are some animals more equal than others?

Wild brumbies spotted in the early morning on the Nunniong Plains.Credit:Josh Robenstone

Mobs of wild horses have roamed the Australian alps for more than 150 years, having either escaped or been set free from pastoral properties, while some are said to carry the bloodline of the Waler, horses bred to meet the vast cavalry needs of the Australian Light Horse in World War I a popular origin story that connects the courageous brumby to the ANZAC legend. But the fact is they have no particular genetic heritage thats worth preserving, Deakin Universitys Driscoll says. The evidence available says that a horse is a horse.

Extensively inbred, many brumbies today look mangy and small, with pencil necks and pot bellies, and they were regarded as a worthless scourge long ago. In 1889, the Richmond River Herald described how mobs were driven into trap lanes, where a man stood waiting with a keen knife: As each animal passed, its jugular vein was severed, and the bleeding creature tore madly away into its native scrub, only to stagger and die from loss of blood.

Literature helped render a more flattering portrait, particularly the wildly popular Silver Brumby novels of Elyne Mitchell. Yet Mitchell also wrote two lesser-known non-fiction books Speak to the Earth and Soil and Civilisation about protecting the Australian bush.

The Man From Snowy River by Banjo Paterson has the most resonance, of course, but the poem doesnt use the word brumby even once. Patersons wild bush horses are little more than a prop for the bloody chase after a millionaires thoroughbred, which makes sense coming from a lawyer in blue-ribbon Yass, who mixed with skiers and Sydney doctors. Paterson was a hopeless romantic, too, and was mercilessly lampooned by his great rival, Henry Lawson, a miserable cuss and alcoholic who produced verse that was distinctly more gloomy and accurate arguing that Paterson was blinded to the real.

Apparently we all are, too. In a random survey of community attitudes, 78 per cent of Victorians didnt know that brumbies are listed as a pest animal, despite the fact that weve spent more than a century treating them as something to be chased, shot and chopped into pet food.

Thats not the goal, though. I dont think its even possible to eradicate horses from the alps, says Matthew Jackson, the CEO of Parks Victoria. And we havent said we aim to eradicate them. But we want these parks to be pristine, and we have obligations not only ethically but legally under acts to maintain these cultural assets.

They also have no plans, he says, to lock out recreational riders. For some members of the community, horses in the high country are paramount to their lives. Taking that away is simply not on the table.

Rehoming the animals would be wonderful, but Parks Victoria advertised five expressions of interest in the past year and could only rehome 15 brumbies. The sterilisation option proposed by OBrien? The inaccessibility of our alps, says Jackson, means the Australian and American settings arent an apple-to-apple comparison.

In 2018, the CSIRO published a study Could current fertility control methods be effective for landscape-scale management of populations of wild horses (Equus caballus) in Australia? and the short, resounding answer was no.

Jackson understands the squeamish resistance to shooting horses, but what he finds unacceptable are the attacks on his department. We refer those to Victoria Police, he says. Its inappropriate for people to be threatened at work or online, on the phone or in the street. Whether in jest or joking, we take it seriously.

So does Richard Swain, 50, a Wiradjuri man of the Dabee clan who grew up near where he now lives, in Cooma, NSW. Swain runs Alpine River Adventures in nearby Jindabyne, but has put the business second to protecting his country. When I call the night before he heads out bush to undertake a feral-cat trapping program (protecting the smoky mouse and mountain pygmy possum) he sounds defeated. Barilaros brumby bill was his breaking point. It was like taking a sledgehammer to a baby; like killing the last bit of the Barrier Reef.

Being Australian to them is Vegemite, or a Holden car, or Bradmans average. I want to shame them into caring for country.

Swain takes people on Indigenous walking tours, educating them about the way the land has been disrespected and desecrated, and last year held a ceremony to sing healing back into the land. His message is not being met well. Online he has been mocked as a half-caste wanker, while opponents have used fake social media accounts to discredit him and online notice boards to rubbish his business.

He was walking in the bush recently with his 83-year-old mother when an opponent screamed at them: Go suck a dick! His wife often finds her car plastered with Save the Brumby stickers. Hes started getting flat tyres, punctured with nails.

Im completely fed up. I now call them Aussies by name and not by nature. But its a broader cultural issue, Swain says. Being Australian to them is Vegemite, or a Holden car, or Bradmans average. They belligerently dont want to form a connection. I want to shame them into caring for country.

Lewis Benedetti says he will keep coming up to the high country, pulling the big horse float he hopes to fill with sturdy little hooves.Credit:Josh Robenstone

Some of them already care deeply for country, of course, even if their perspectives diverge. Benedetti, the horse-breaker, is one. He says he will keep coming up to the high country in the near future, pulling the big horse float he hopes to fill with sturdy little hooves. Im gonna give this winter a hard crack, says Benedetti. Id like to save a few from the rifle, and have a brumby sale in spring. A couple of dozen.

In the weeks after I leave, he roams our landscape alone, catching mares and foals, posting luminous photos of the shimmering Snowy River, and fresh green pick on the steep side of Mt Kosciuszko. But I remember him best in my final moments on the Nunnet Plains, an expanse of thick grass and dead gums silvering in the sun.

He sees a mob before him, but the dozen blacks and bays and greys twig to his presence early, and charge away. The crack rider follows light in the saddle, digging spurs and clutching reins and he closes as the tree line nears.

A brutal silent wind whips across the land now, and the pursuit vanishes into the bush. As the familiar chase continues, dark cloud shadows creep over the plains. The brumbies are on the run.

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The imminent brumby cull in the Australian alps - Sydney Morning Herald

Bisexual Matilda star candidly recounts childhood struggle with OCD to explain why we should all listen to trans kids – PinkNews

In an interview with the trans charity Mermaids, the bisexual actress was asked about the move by the UK equalities minister Liz Truss to remove healthcare options for trans children. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Shorty Awards)

Mara Wilson, the former child star from Matilda, has opened up about her childhood mental health problems to show that trans kids are capable of making their own choices.

In an interview with the trans charity Mermaids, the bisexual actress and LGBT+ advocate was asked about the move by the UK equalities minister Liz Truss to remove healthcare options for transgender children.

Wilson explained her view that children should be able to make decisions about their own bodies, recalling how she was perfectly capable of advocating for herself at the age of 12.

I mean, the way that I see it, when I was 12 years old, I knew that I had a mental illness, she said. I knew that I was suffering terribly from anxiety and depression, and I read some books about obsessive compulsive disorder and immediately thought, This is it, this is what I have, and I want help for it.

So I went to my school counsellor and said, I think that I have this, I want to get treatment. And they sent me to a therapist and said, Do you want to go on medication? And I said I want to do what would help me, and I did. And I advocated for myself at 12.

I dont know if every child can do that, I but I knew at 12 and at 13 years old that that was the best move for me. I wouldve been suicidal if hadnt done that. I knew what the issue was.

She noted that its not an exact parallel because being transgender is an identity, not a mental illness, but added: I do think a lot of people know from a very young age that they are different, or that they are special, that they are affected in a certain way.

Mara Wilson acknowledged the concerns about putting children on medication, but recalled a doctor saying to her once: I wish they would just think about what helps.

And thats kind of how I feel as well, she said.

If children are able to know that this is not the body they want to be in or this is not the identity that they are I really wish people would just listen to children more in general, honestly.

The star also discussed the differences in opposition to trans rights between the UK and the US, admitting that she was baffled by British transphobia.

Personally I see a lot of it from public figures in the UK, [whereas] in the US its generally a religious thing, but its a very specific thing, its a religious thing that is tied in with a lot of conservative religious political power. And its a lot of scare tactics, she said.

She continued: I dont quite understand why I see it in the UK among prominent writers and musicians and people like that. I dont understand it and a lot of seems to be like, This is coming from knowledge and reason and rationalism, and its just like well, what about compassion? What about understanding?

Wilson concluded the interview with a message to cis people on how to be a good trans ally, stressing that it begins with the simple act of listening.

The most important thing is to listen to trans people to listen to non-binary people, to try to understand them and have compassion for them, she advised.

Even if you dont understand it right away, theres a lot of things you dont understand that you still have compassion and kindness for, and thats just the way that it is. Its not about being politically correct, its just being polite, and kind, and those are things that more people should be.

Host and Mermaids head of policy and legal, Lui Asquith, said: Interviewing Mara Wilson was a dream for me and an empowering moment for young trans and gender-diverse people in the UK suffering the dual anxiety of isolation compounded by the worry created by recent statements from Liz Truss MP.

Hearing Mara talk so honestly and with such kindness towards our families was a real moment of sunshine at a difficult time.

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Bisexual Matilda star candidly recounts childhood struggle with OCD to explain why we should all listen to trans kids - PinkNews

Chair Designs by legendary designers that transformed the world of design – Yanko Design

Chairs can you imagine living without one? One of the first things we need the moment we set up our home is the furniture we will use to rest ourselves. Over time, the shape, form, materials, design language everything has evolved except for our primary need to rest against a surface. Im sure that even as you read this, most of you are seated on a chair! Now give that chair a long hard look and think of the years of design practice that went into making the design what it is today. Inspiring, right? The iconic chair designs showcased here have played a part in our history from reflecting the needs of the world, merging art and design to even creating practices that transformed the manufacturing ideology, everyone should pay homage to these revolutionary designs.

Chair_ONE is constructed just like a football: a number of flat planes assembled at angles to each other, creating the three-dimensional form. I think my approach was a mixture of naivety and bluntness. Given the chance to work with aluminum casting I thought that I should take it all the way. The more we worked on the models the more we learned to understand the structural logic behind what we were doing. What began as a simple sketch, a series of cardboard models, prototypes, is now a real chair. says the designer Konstantin Grcic. The German industrial designer is known for having a pared-down aesthetic with his functional designs being characterized by geometric shapes and unexpected angles.

Tejo Remy works as a product, interior, and public space designer together with Rene Veenhuizen in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Where there is abundance of materials, there is also an abundance of waste. Considering everything as material, Remy incorporates existing information, circumstances, or found goods into new situations, or simply put, repurposes the products to give them a new life. The ideology behind this collection is elegantly simple, make your own world with what you encounter like Robinson Cruso created his own paradise on his island. says Tejo.

In 1984, at a Pratt Institute laboratory in Brooklyn, Italian designer Gaetano Pesce cast nine chairs using the same mold. For each, he changed the resin formula ever so slightly. The first, jiggly as Jell-O, collapsed immediately on the floor. The second stood up, but, with one touch, toppled over. The third, fourth, fifth, and so on, grew more and more sturdy, but the eighth and ninth were so rigid that they were uncomfortable for sitting. The reason for this experimentation? To prove that the difference between art and design is merely a slight alteration in the chemical formula. This narrative has been the core of his design practice for decades! Pesce explains, A chairyou sit in it, and its comfortable. But the same chair, when you change the rigidity, it becomes a sculpture. There is no difference. An architecture critic from Italy once made a book talking about how there is no difference between a spoon and the city. The spoon is small, the city is huge, but they are all objects. Architecture is just an object with a big scale; an object that you can enter inside.

With The Flag Halyard Chair, Hans Wegner acknowledges the early modernists such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer, and proves that he too masters designs in chromium-plated steel pipes. An iconic and dramatic lounge chair, this engineered stainless steel frame comes with a seat and back made of plaited flag halyard (A halyard is a line/rope that hoists or covers a sail.) However, the story behind the design is more than just a dialogue of art history. The shape of the chairs seat was conceived during a family holiday in rhus, Denmark. The story goes that Wegner conceived this design while on the beach towards the end of the 1940s. He supposedly modeled the grid-like seat in a sand dune, presumably with some old rope that lay close to hand. The chair went into production in the 1950s and its unlikely combination of rope, painted and chrome-plated steel, sheepskin, and linen are still landmark in the world of furniture design.

The Box chair was designed by Enzo Mari in 1971 for Castelli. This self-assembly chair consisted of an injection-molded seat and a collapsible tubular metal frame that came apart to fit into a box, hence the name! Enzo Mari is considered one of the most intellectually provocative Italian designers of the late 20th century, known for products, furniture, and puzzles alike. Mari adhered strictly to rational design constructed in a way that corresponds entirely to the purpose or function. Maris commitment to rationalism stood the test of time, gaining him work with giants like Muji and Thonet at the end of the century when minimal, user-friendly design made a comeback.

Charles Eames famously said, The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests. The couple that revolutionized American furniture design, Eames have created a universal response to what everyone wants from a chair: a simple, gracious form that fits any body and every place. Its what makes the chair a classic worthy of museum collectionsand living rooms, laundromats, lobbies, and cafs. With its unmistakable character, the Eames Wire Chair DKR is not just aesthetically charming but reminds us of the emergence in the 1950s of popular culture: a movement which in terms of furniture design brought decorative elements back to the forefront. With its cool, shiny steel wire and lascivious bikini shaped padding the Wire Chair Bikini represents more than most other furniture objects the decadent pop culture of 1950s America. Speaking of the 50s, Im glad to see those red Formica tables disappear!

This stunning chair was designed by Adolf Loos in 1898 to furnish that renowned Cafe Museum in Vienna. Its timeless allure comes from the refined curves of its silhouette, obtained with the signature steam-bent beechwood that creates stunning accents at the top of the legs and in the two parallel curves that grace the open backrest. The structure of the piece has an elliptical section that gives it lightness, making the design ageless.

How High The Moon by Shiro Kuramata is made of expanded mesh, thin sheets of which have been steel-cut and extruded. The chair has no interior frame or support yet provides the outline of a chair and its transparent structure retains the shape and silhouette of a traditional upholstered armchair. Freeing from gravity was one of the key themes for Kuramata throughout his entire career, and hence expanded mesh was an ideal material for the designer the chair appears light and vulnerable yet amply strong enough for use. This chairs appearance is the result of the overlapping hashing of the mesh sheets (it really does seem to buzz in the air)

A collection from Big Easy, the steel chair designed by Ron Arad in 1988 shows that a volume, as simple form, can be translated, without compromising the design principles, through a reinterpretation of materials and production processes. The model obtained from a constructive gesture showcases the visual softness and fullness of the volumes, promising comfort. Big Easy explores the rotational molding and the use of polyethylene as a material while its design language invites you to rest irrespective of the material used, proving the dominance of the form over materials in this case.

Hans Corays Landi Chair

Developed for the 1939 Swiss National Exhibition, the Landi Chair by Hans Coray occupies an important place in the history of twentieth-century design: this classical chair by Hans Coray established the new typology of a three-dimensionally molded seat shell on a separate base. The lightweight, stackable Landi Chair is robust and weather-resistant: its 91 holes allow water to flow. Technical innovation, systematic use of materials, minimalist forms, and understated elegance are the elements that have made the Landi Chair into a classic over the years, which looks as fresh and vital as ever.

This is a brief beginning to the history of one of the most iconic products used globally the humble chair. We will continue this series to showcase more of these designs and share the knowledge of how each chair is a description of the mood of the world in their time.


Chair Designs by legendary designers that transformed the world of design - Yanko Design

Gresham College: Prof. Yorick Wilks The State of AI: War,Ethics and Religion #3/3 Artificial Intelligence and Religion – stopthefud

About this series

Will you be murdered by AI? What if AI were conscious? And will a religion based on an AI god inevitably rise?

In his second series about the state of Artificial Intelligence, Professor Yorick Wilks will examine some of the tougher questions about ethics for AI in war zones, whether (and when) we should care about AI as we do about animals, and the impact AI could have on religion. Are we getting AI right?

About this lecture

This lecture addresses the potential links between AI and religious belief, which include the question of whether an artificial superintelligence, were one to arise, would be well-disposed towards us. Religious traditions historically assume that creations are well disposed to those who made them.

The lecture also looks at the recent US cults claiming to be ready to worship such a super-intelligence, if and when it emerges, as well as other futurist discourse on Transhumanism and its roots in 18th-century rationalism.

Professor Yorick Wilks

Yorick Wilks is Visiting Professor of Artificial Intelligence at Gresham College. He is also Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sheffield, a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, and a Senior Scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Professor Wilks is especially interested in the fields of artificial intelligence and the computer processing of language, knowledge and belief. His current research focuses on the possibility of software agents having identifiable personalities.

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Gresham College: Prof. Yorick Wilks The State of AI: War,Ethics and Religion #3/3 Artificial Intelligence and Religion - stopthefud

5 things to watch for in the Budget – Otago Daily Times

Amidst a welter of commentary about how momentous this Thursday's Budget will be, how about this for a prediction? Prepare to be disappointed.

To those on the left, who hope the Government will have crafted a new, green utopia: forget it. Like the rest of us, they're still trying to work out what's hit them.

There will be plenty of nods in the direction of climate change resilience, but also plenty of new roads and fast-track resource management legislation to get the economy moving again.

To the promoters of so-called 'shovel-ready' projects, who hope $170 billion of aspiration can be jammed into maybe $5 billion to $10 billion of immediately available capital spending: forget it.

The list of possible projects is so long and the ability to fund them so inevitably limited that there will be disappointment aplenty.

To small and medium-sized business owners hoping there's more in the kitty for them: forget it. The wage subsidy scheme and the various cashflow measures to date - in particular, the almost haphazard conversion of the tax department into a bank of last resort - are probably as good as it's going to get.


The only likely exceptions to that: tourism operators and associated parts of hospitality and the events sector.

Even there, there is only so much a government can do when the reality for many is that their businesses will be either much smaller or unable to operate until international tourists return - whenever that may be.

Some of the help for these sectors will target retraining for the employees who must swiftly find a new trade.

Even trade unions, who have been closer to the emergency policy-making action than they have been for years during normal times, may not welcome Finance Minister Grant Robertson's enthusiasm for encouraging small, entrepreneurial businesses to flourish.

Disappointed, too, will be the modern monetary policy theorists who think central banks should simply fund everything that everybody wants out of thin air. It is tempting to think that's already happening, with the Reserve Bank pumping up financial market liquidity by buying government bonds at unprecedented levels.

But Robertson is no fan of that. He knows debt created today must, some day in some way, be paid back. And he values the fact that New Zealand has had its super-strong credit ratings reconfirmed in recent days. Maintaining that credibility - hard-won over the past four decades - remains important for a small, open economy.

However, Roger Douglas, who kicked off that path to credibility, will be disappointed too. Robertson delivered a curt "no" when asked last week whether he'd read the latest think-piece from the reforming Labour finance minister whose radical egalitarianism remains as chronically misunderstood as ever.


Perhaps most disappointed of all will be those who were looking forward to the progressive political investment agenda outlined in the Budget policy statement in December last year. Robertson was very clear last week: unless there are cost pressures that must be addressed, those priorities are shelved for now.

Nor will there be much, if anything, for anyone hoping for a fairer tax system. It is far too early to start raising taxes to pay for the current debt pile-up and it would be political suicide to broach the debate that must be revived about the taxation of wealth.

For taxpayers on middle incomes who are now paying the top income tax rate, there might be a skerrick of relief, but dealing to fiscal drag is something even governments with strong books resist. Now is not the time.


Instead, this Budget is a first, inevitably imperfect attempt to get to grips with one of the biggest shocks the New Zealand economy has ever experienced, and which is not over yet.

So, rather than a utopian wishlist, how about a utilitarian shortlist of five key things to watch for in this Thursday's Budget?

1 - Budget surpluses

Firstly, will the word 'surplus' appear in the Budget documents? For all Robertson's rejection of Roger Douglas, it is an enduring Douglas legacy that New Zealand governments have both striven for and produced Budget surpluses whenever they could during the past 30 years.

In an interview last week, Robertson avoided the word, carefully defining his ambition as a "sustainable" fiscal position, with a focus more on the level of net Crown debt than whether income exceeds expenditure any time in the next decade.

That may simply be prudent. It's likely that current forecasts show Budget deficits as far as the eye can see because of the size of the economic crater made by covid-19.

However, the rhetorical ambition to return to surplus is a political as much as an economic totem. Its inclusion or exclusion will be significant in itself.

2 - Treasury forecasts

On Budget day, it will be exactly a month since the Treasury released its first set of scenarios outlining possible paths for the economy post-covid.

These were not forecasts but guesstimates based on various possible outcomes for the global and domestic economy. If anything, the scenarios given greatest credence were less apocalyptic than might have been expected. Unemployment was low, back under 5 percent, within four years and the economy bounces back strongly to be as large in 2022 as it was in 2019.

That picture will have changed in the intervening weeks, but by how much?

The important thing will be the direction rather than the extent of change. No one can accurately predict anything about the economy right now. The disruption is so great that Statistics New Zealand probably can't even be sure it's collecting all the right data at the moment.

Instead, it's the frequency of updates that matters. This week's forecasts are a way-station before the production of pre-election fiscal and economic updates in late August, assuming the election goes ahead on Sept. 19.

3 - Level 1 and the trans-Tasman travel bubble

The Australian government has so far been franker than ours about a timeline to something close to normal life, which includes the potential for open borders between Australia and New Zealand. Aussie Prime Minister Scott Morrison has talked about the bubble being in place by July. Being able to travel across the Ditch again is less significant than the powerful signal that such a relaxation will give, acting as both a fillip to confidence and as a proxy for confirmation that both countries have the virus under control.

Will our government chance its arm by nominating its own timetable, or maintain its currently more conservative stance?

4 - Articulation of a vision

Robertson talked last week about the opportunity to use covid-19 to "build back better." It should be far too early to give anything more than a verbal outline of what this means, with perhaps one or two symbolic but probably low-cost pointers.

However, the way the government talks about the role of government in this Budget is vital. If it says too little, it will be suspected of developing an agenda that it doesn't want to discuss before the election.

Equally, it must judge carefully how much and exactly what it says about these ambitions because they will be key to the themes of the election campaign. The government is already a far larger player in the economy than it was possible even to imagine two months ago.

For some, this is an opportunity to rebuild a fairer, better society and economy. For others, it threatens to march New Zealand backwards into a low productivity, state-directed future where capital is allocated politically and a generation of economic rationalism is unwound.

By the time the election rolls around, the covid-19 virus will be less the focus than the unemployment, business closures and hardship its impact will wreak. The competition of ideas for how best to get out of this mess will be intense. The Budget is the government's throat-clearing moment for that contest.

5 - How Simon Bridges reacts

The National Party leader has fallen twice at crucial hurdles - first when the initial level 4 lockdown was announced and second in reaction to the move to level 3.

The Budget is a third such hurdle.

If Simon Bridges pitches his tone wrong again this week, the chances of a reluctant but unavoidable attempt at a leadership coup will go through the roof.

- By Pattrick Smellie

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5 things to watch for in the Budget - Otago Daily Times

Hal Foster on the art of Donald Judd – Artforum

SEVERAL DECADES ON, the art of Donald Judd is still stunning. In the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that opened March 1, smartly curated by Ann Temkin, Yasmil Raymond, Tamar Margalit, and Erica Cooke, all the work looks fresh (kudos to the conservators), but the early paintings and objects are especially vivid. The intensity of the cadmium red, often made tactile by roughened surfaces of board and wood. The physicality of the specific shapes, such as a yellow oval affixed to the support or a tin pan embedded there. The first tentative move into actual space with a painting whose aluminum top and bottom curl outward toward us. And then the initial objects, cut in sharp geometries, set boldly on the floor without pedestal or plinth.

Also very impressive, the second gallery presents several pieces Judd exhibited in his first solo museum show in 1968 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. At this point, he had already begun to repeat elements, as in his stacks, which consist of identical shelves set on a wall at regular intervals from floor to ceiling, as well as in his channels, which are comprised of rectangular frames spaced on the floor so as to describe a perfect square. Represented here, too, are other familiar series, such as his progressions, which are made of box and bullnose units sized and arranged along horizontal bars according to mathematical orders like the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.). The second gallery marks a shift in production from the homemade work of the early 1960s, when his father, a skilled carpenter, assisted Judd, to the pieces fabricated later in the decade in iron, stainless steel, brass, aluminum, and Plexiglas by sheet-metal specialists. Some of these objects have a fragile finish that in the 70s Judd offset with pieces in unpainted plywood, which recovered the crafted hardiness of the early work and allowed him to go larger than he had heretofore.

Along with a few other templates, Judd turned these series into a basic language that he deployed in different materials, colors, and sizes for the next two decades of his life, excellent instances of which are displayed in the third gallery. The fourth gallery of the exhibition is dominated by pieces that represent a final twist in his practice. In 1984, Judd began to collaborate with a Swiss fabricator that helped him assemble long blocks of color units in enameled aluminum. This is Judd at his most pictorial (the blocks are often set on the wall); the random combinations of colors might call up the grids of Ellsworth Kelly or even the charts of Gerhard Richter. This is also Judd at his most free; the work has little of the asperity usually associated with late style, but then Judd died prematurely, felled by cancer in 1994 at the age of sixty-five.

With Judd it is impossible to separate the artist from the critic, and some of his words remain as forceful as most of his objects. Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture, he stated in the famous first lines of Specific Objects (1965). Much of the motivation in the new work is to get clear of these forms. The use of three dimensions is an obvious alternative. Although Judd appeared to dismiss painting in totoThe main thing wrong with it, he remarked in his usual deadpan, is that it is a rectangular plane faced flat against the wallit was Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Ad Reinhardt who prompted his shift into three dimensions. Along with a commitment to large scale, unmodulated color, and emphatic materiality, their painting mandated a sense of singleness for Judd, who felt that this wholeness had a better future outside that medium.1

Judd didnt eliminate composition so much as he displaced it from the interior of the work to the exterior, where it became a matter of symmetry and proportion along a wall or on a floor. This was a radical move artistically but less so aesthetically, for first and last Judd held that ultimately one essential of art is unity, a traditional criterion indeed. Hence, unlike many of his peers, he had little interest in chance or any other device of the Duchampian avant-garde. Still, his shiftfrom an arrangement of parts within a painting or a sculpture to the wholeness of an object in actual spacewas misread by early critics, and Judd responded fiercely. I object to several popular ideas, he wrote already in 1966. I dont think anyones work is reductive. Far less was Minimalisma label Judd also abjuredan attack on art: Non-art, anti-art, non-art art, anti-art art are useless. If someone says his art is art, its art.

For all his resistance to anti-art, Judd articulated most of his motives in the negative. Above all, he was opposed to illusionism and rationalism, which, in his view, were closely linked. Three dimensions are real space, he wrote in Specific Objects. That gets rid of the problem of illusionism. Why did Judd object to this relic of European art so strongly? Again, his argument was not avant-gardistthat abstraction had voided illusionism once and for all (it hadnt, in any case). Rather, the problem was that illusionism was anthropomorphic, by which he meant not simply that it allowed for the representation of the human body, but that it assumed an a priori consciousness, whereby the subject always preceded the object. In short, like composition, illusionism was rationalistic, a vestige of an outmoded idealism in need of expunging. There is little of any of this in the new three-dimensional work, Judd insisted. The order is not rationalistic. . . . [It] is simply order, like that of continuity, one thing after another.2

Of course, Judd also put forward positive values, especially the related ones of specificity and objectivity, but largely to counter the negative ones. Materials vary greatly and are simply materialsformica, aluminum, cold-rolled steel, plexiglass, red and common brass, and so forth, he stated, in his laconic way, about several of his preferred substances. They are specific. If they are used directly they are more specific. Here specific means physically emphatic: His explicit materials and straightforward presentations were intended to make us focus on the intrinsic qualities of the former and on our reflexive perception of the latter. At the same time, at least for Judd, these substances were unburdened by associations, artistic or otherwise, and this lent them even more objectivity. In his view, this specificity and that objectivity supported the autonomy of the artwork, which he honored most of all.

These values are mostly materialist, but what kind of materialism, exactly? In an incisive critique from 1975, Karl Beveridge and Ian Burn, two members of the Art & Language camp of Conceptual art, called it middle-class materialism, one that put too much faith in the supposed objectivity of science.3 I leapt into the world an empiricist, Judd stated proudly, and his posture was indeed empiricist, according to which all knowledge is derived from sense experience, if not positivist, according to which all knowledge must be scientifically verified as well. (For a point of comparison, Frank Stella was positivist when he said of his painting of the early to mid-60s, What you see is what you see.4) Judd moderated his empiricism a little through a reading of pragmatists such as Charles Sanders Peirce, and there is also a trace of the transcendentalists in his writings, especially when he struck his recurrent note of Emersonian self-reliance.

Judd was limited philosophically, and I imagine he liked it that way: He thought what he thought, and defiantly so.

Although Judd was art-historically trainedhe did an MA under Meyer Schapiro at Columbia Universityhe was limited philosophically, and I imagine he liked it that way: He thought what he thought, and defiantly so. Judd believed, correctly, that, apart from other vices, European rationalism was too dependent on problematic binaries, not only of subject and object and mind and body, but also of thought and feeling, spirit and matter, and form and content, with the privilege granted to the first term in each pair. Yet, for the most part, he couldnt think his way through these oppositions: He didnt have enough Marx to dialecticize them (Judd mentioned Marx only twice in his texts), nor did he later possess any Derrida to deconstruct them. Arguably, his very insistence on the object removed it from the subject all the more. Clearly Beveridge and Burn thought so: They read the vaunted objectivity of his specific objects as so much alienability, equally divided between artwork and viewer. (This is what other viewers have long registered as the coldness or impersonality of Minimalism.5)

Judd didnt oppose the specific to the general; he believed in generalities, that of art above all (again, if someone says his art is art, its art). If the specific object lies beyond the discrete mediums of painting and sculpture, that realm is the realm of art in general, Art with a capital A, which was also the conclusion drawn by his Conceptual followers, of whom Judd mostly disapproved.6 Prominent critics such as Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried saw the situation quite differently. Far from autonomous art, the specific object was too close to a mere thing (like a door, a table, or a blank sheet of paper, Greenberg mocked), too caught up in mundane time (Fried famously termed Minimalist objecthood so much theater and opposed it to art in no uncertain terms).7 Yet Judd insisted on the autonomy of art every bit as much as Greenberg and Fried did, even if, as Beveridge and Burn alleged, his version initially required the art-institutional context of the gallery or the museum for it to be recognized as such. There is a further connection to his two great antagonists: Like Greenberg and Fried, Judd conformed to a conceptual framework that, far from being alien to European rationalism, might well be essential to it. In The Order of Things (1966), written in the same years that Minimalism was developed, Michel Foucault argued that modern man is a strange empirico-transcendental doublet, by which he meant that, however opposed they might appear, the epistemological orientations of empiricism and transcendentalism are actually bound up with each other.8 Greenberg and Fried put forward such a doubletmedium-specificity on the one hand, autonomous art on the otherand so did Judd with his empiricist attention to the object and his transcendental commitment to art in general.

To be sure, Judd helped to open up new possibilities for postwar art. The main thing for anyone now, he remarked in 1966 in the full flush of this expansion, is to invent their own means. Yet, again, he ruled out some devices from the start, such as chance operations la John Cage, and shied away from others, such as the found image or object. Ive lived in the shade of a coat hanger and a bed spread, Judd lamented in 1981 in a light swipe at Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Certainly, after his initial move into three dimensions, Judd did produce brilliant variations, but he held fast to his basic theme. I want a particular, definite object, he remarked in a 1969 text on Dan Flavin. I think Flavin wants, at least first or primarily, a particular phenomenon. One can distinguish Judd from his other peers in this differential way as well. Whereas Carl Andre insisted on given material units, and Robert Morris opted for direct bodily engagement, and Richard Serra ventured into emphatic spatial intervention, Judd stuck with his discrete specific object. By and large, he supported, even prepared, these other moves, but he didnt join them, not fully.

This point seems clear enough nowthe MoMA show helps in this respectbut it wasnt always evident to artists and critics (myself included). For all the visual power of the Judd oeuvreand often it has a haptic force, tooit doesnt often engage us deeply in a phenomenological way. That it was thought to do so was partly a projection onto his work from the practices of Morris and Serra, who were actually interested in the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. (Although Phenomenology of Perception was translated into English in 1962, Judd didnt mention Merleau-Ponty in his writings.) An involvement in phenomenology might have also led Judd to probe process and space more amply than he did; clearly, it nudged Morris and Serra in those directions.9 Judd was interested in the effects of fabrication more than the discoveries of process, in the drama of installation more than the articulation of space. In fact, with all its reflections, transparencies, and color interactions, the viewer can get caught up in the mesmeric surfaces and volumes of his work in a way that disembodies and dematerializes more than the opposite. Little was done until lately with the wide range of industrial products, Judd stated in Specific Objects. Almost nothing has been done with industrial techniques. He did a lot with the products, of course, but not so much with the techniquesa point that Serra has recently underscored with a distinction drawn between the shiny Minimalism of Judd and Flavin, centered on objects and phenomena, and the down and dirty Minimalism of his own cohort (among whom he names Robert Smithson, Bruce Nauman, and Eva Hesse), focused on processes and materials.10

For all the visual power of the Judd oeuvreand it has a haptic force, tooit doesnt often engage us deeply in a phenomenological way.

Is this a fair assessment of Judd, though, when it comes to space? Although his move into three dimensions was hardly the first, it did alter the relationship of art to architecture significantly: No one could see it any longer as a simple matter of rectangles on walls or things in galleries. More precisely, his Minimalism altered the geometry of viewing in art and made us newly alert to the nuances of installation.11 For some critics, however, this awareness had a downside; Beveridge and Burn complained that Judd programmed his viewers and choreographed his objects too much.12 At the same time, although many pieces are nicely site-adjustedincluding the stacks, the plywood pieces that extend across an entire wall, and multiple works in Marfa, Texasnot many are truly site-specific, at least in the rigorous sense given the term by Serra (to move the work is to destroy it). In this respect, Judd was also limited in his outdoor pieces, whose concrete geometries often seem more imposed on the landscape than fitted there.

I dont mean to be overly critical. Again, Judd set up crucial investigations of the 60s and 70s, and he shouldnt be judged according to subsequent criteria in any case. Nevertheless, one wonders why he didnt take his own radical move further. I have floated a few possible reasons; another concerns his historical resources. In a 1981 text titled Russian Art in Relation to Myself, Judd stated simply, I essentially missed the Russian work, by which he meant Constructivism above all. I would like to have known of that interest in the early 1960s, he added, with the culture of materials of Vladimir Tatlin in mind. Given his art-historical knowledge, did this work really escape his notice? Contemporaries such as Sol LeWitt, Andre, Stella, Flavin, and Serra were all aware of the basics of Constructivism, mostly through the 1962 book The Great Experiment: Russian Art 18631922, by Camilla Gray. (Judd claimed that he was also late to De Stijl, though given his primary colors, clean geometries, and scalar experiments, that too seems a little dubious.) In any case, Constructivism could have assisted Judd in his principal battles: Its insistence on construction would have supported his critique of composition, and its understanding of materialism would have deepened his critique of idealism (it might have also complicated his empiricism). The Constructivist principles of faktura, tectonics, and construction were dedicated to a Marxist undoing of bourgeois art forms; the aim was to defetishize the work of art via a new transparency of materials and production. Arguably, Judd often did much the opposite, fetishizing facture as techy surface and outsourcing construction as fabrication. Obviously, there was no sociopolitical context for any thorough recovery of Constructivism, but that didnt stop Andre, Serra, and others from a partial recuperation of its artistic principles.13

Perhaps the primary reason Judd held fast is that he rejected anything that looked like compromise, and, to him, a lot did: In his writings he often railed against wayward artists, obtuse critics, nefarious collectors, bureaucratic museums, untrustworthy foundations, and devious governments. His partial withdrawal to Marfa in the early 70s was also a defiant stand against any encroachment on his autonomy; it is where his liberal belief in self-reliance edged into a Texan brand of libertarianism (Dont tread on me). Yet, paradoxically, standing his ground also opened him up to some slippages, most of which werent his fault. For instance, if Judd didnt oppose the specific to the general, he did pit it against the generic, and what is more generic than the commodities that suffuse our everyday world? However, when repeated, as Judd did repeat his boxes, stacks, and other elements, the specific object became less specific and more serialone thing after another, indeed. In structural terms, then, the specific object began to approximate the commodity, and too often it is as shiny as any (other) product, which is far less the case with the down and dirty version of Minimalism. In this respect, too, Judd came to share a serial logic with his enemy twin, Andy Warhol (Judd disdained Pop). The difference is that Warhol owned that condition: Rather than deny it only to reproduce it, as Judd sometimes did, Warhol often exacerbated and so exposed it.

Judd rejected anything that looked like compromise, and, to him, a lot did.

Similarly, even though Judd insisted on the autonomy of art, he also designed furniture and architecture. That was his prerogative, to be sure, and he kept these ventures separateand they remain so in the MoMA retrospective, where only a few benches, settees, and tables appear, and these outside the exhibition proper. But, intentionally or not, this activity blurred the line between the specific object and the utilitarian thing, the very line that Greenberg condemned Minimalism for crossing. In what ways did Judd prepare the repurposing of Minimalism by commercial design, both high and low, from Design Within Reach to IKEA? Are his detractors wrong to compare his late blocks of aluminum colors to giant Rubiks Cubes? Whereas Minimalism once meant materially emphatic, formally rigorous, and perceptually precise, it now signifies differently: To some people it means sleek, expensive elegance, to others moral uplift via Kondo space management. This not-so-secret sharing between Minimalism and design is hardly all on Juddit is a matter less of production than of receptionand yet, just as Leo Steinberg once pointed to a connection between Color Field painting and Detroit automobile styling, it must be mooted nonetheless.14 Other possible crossings are no less problematic. For example, if Minimalism initiated a new geometry of viewing for art installation, it might also have paved the way for galleries and museums to entertain the immersive spectacles favored by the culture industry at large.

Finally, there is this turn, for which Judd is responsible. In Specific Objects, he declared matter-of-factly, A work needs only to be interesting. Here, consciously or not, he posed the open criterion of interest against the Greenbergian shibboleth of quality: Whereas quality was judged by reference to the standards of both the old masters and the great moderns, interest was prompted by the testing of aesthetic categories and the transgressing of traditional mediums. In 1984, two decades after Judd made that famous declaration, in a two-part essay with the unironic title A Long Discussion Not About Master-pieces but Why There Are So Few of Them, he stated the opposite: Quality . . . is nearly the definition of art. Why did he take it back? Given that Judd had ascended to great-modern status by then, did he simply want to defend old-master quality as the ultimate criterion? Or had he secretly held out for it all along? For those of us who even as we admired Judd were also quickened by feminist critique of the male genius in the early 80s, this was a real letdown. What happened to his caustic skepticism of traditional categories of art?

On the one hand, what Judd initiated is well-nigh epochal. Its not so far from the time of easel painting, he commented in 1982; its still the time of the museum, and the development of the new work is only in the middle of the beginning. Certainly, for my generation he was a key reference, not unlike Pollock for his own generation; in 1987, I went so far as to declare his Minimalism the crux of postwar art.15 On the other hand, how salient is his work for artists and critics today? The past never stays the same since it is always seen from a new time and place, Judd also wrote in 1987. The experience, the work, that once could not be seen from outside, is eventually, often sadly, given an outside. Has that outside come to his work as well? However fresh it might still look, has it reached that Hegelian status, at once grand and melancholy, of a thing of the past?

Hal Foster teaches at Princeton University. His bookWhat Comes After Farce? Art and Criticism at a Time of Debacleis published this month by Verso.


1. This and all other Judd quotations are from Donald Judd Writings, ed. Flavin Judd and Caitlin Murray (New York: Judd Foundation/David Zwirner Books, 2016).

2. Judd also advanced this notion in a 1966 conversation with Frank Stella: The qualities of European art so far . . . theyre linked up with a philosophyrationalism. . . . All that art is based on systems built beforehand, a priori systems; they express a certain type of thinking and logic that is pretty much discredited now as a way of finding out what the worlds like. See Bruce Glaser, Questions to Stella and Judd, in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1968), 151. Incidentally, Judd was resistant to conventional composition in his writing, too: His prose often has a paratactic (non)quality, somewhat akin to that of Gertrude Stein, with statements that are at once specific and serial, one sentence after another.

3. Karl Beveridge and Ian Burn, Don Judd, The Fox, no. 2 (1975): 131.

4. Glaser, Questions to Stella and Judd, 158.

5. Beveridge and Burn, Don Judd, 132. Judd wasnt immune to this sense of alienability. In fact, in one unpublished note dated January 3, 1976, it turned into a vision of nothingness: For a long time Ive considered time to be nothing. Any time that you think of is only the relation or sequence of events, how long a person lives, human biology, or how many times the earth goes around the sun. There is no other time than this. If you remove all of the events there is nothing. Space, also, is nothing. There are things in it, variously related. If you remove these and the means of measurement between them, their phenomena, most importantly light-years, there is nothing. For an argument about how the phenomenological plenitude of Minimalist installations can flip into the oppositea voiding of the viewersee Robert Slifkin, The New Monuments and the End of Man: U.S. Sculpture Between War and Peace, 19471975 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019).

6. This is an argument that Thierry de Duve has often reiterated.

7. Clement Greenberg, Recentness of Sculpture (1967), in Battcock, Minimal Art, 183; Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood (1967), in Battcock, Minimal Art, 11647.

8. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Random House, 1970), 318. Foucault was concerned with Comtean positivism and Marxist eschatology in particular, but his point is far more capacious.

9. Also, unlike Morris and Serra, Judd didnt appear much impacted, at least in his art, by dance, even of the Judson Church sort, despite the fact that he was married to choreographer and dancer Julie Finch from 1964 to 1976.

10. See Richard Serra and Hal Foster, Conversations About Sculpture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 1938.

11. I owe this point to Charles Ray.

12. Beveridge and Burn, Don Judd, 132. Not all Judd shows were so calculated, and though the MoMA exhibition provides informed juxtapositions and powerful sight lines, it also lets us engage individual pieces on their own, which Judd would have appreciated.

13. The more salient precursor is Josef Albers, whom Judd did acknowledge. The two shared an interest in the ambiguity of appearances, the interaction of colors, and the variations that can be wrung from a series. Like Albers, too, Judd delved into illusionism far more than his official literalism might suggest. On this point, see my The Art-Architecture Complex (New York: Verso, 2011), 182214.

14. See Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 79.

15. See Hal Foster, The Crux of Minimalism, in Return of the Real: Art and Theory at the End of the Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 3570.

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Hal Foster on the art of Donald Judd - Artforum

The See-Through House by Shelley Klein review a father’s obsession – The Guardian

When Shelley Klein moved back in with her father Beri after her mother died, she brought some old furniture with her. He didnt want it in the house: a Victorian chair would compromise the modernist vernacular, he said. He objected to her pots of herbs, too: putting them on the kitchen windowsill would ruin the rectangular symmetry. Theyd had these arguments since childhood, when he stopped her having a Christmas tree. To Beri, the house was a work of art, a gallery for living in, and nothing must detract from its aesthetic.

Designed by the architect Peter Womersley, who became a close family friend, High Sunderland sits in a pine forest on the Scottish borders. A single-storey series of interconnecting boxes, its defining feature is a generous use of glass, which seems to draw the surrounding landscape inside. Klein was born there in 1963, a few years after it was built. She feels hefted to the place and used to dread leaving it as a child. Despite travelling widely and spending years in Cornwall, she kept returning, even before her fathers last years. Her book is a homage to the house and to him.

She arranges it like a floor plan, taking us through it room by room: from the hallway, with its single piece of furniture, a Danish chair on which it was forbidden to sit or place coats, through the living room, as clean and well lit a space as a Nordic snowscape, to the kitchen, where her parents would argue how long roast beef should be cooked. She also shows us the garden, which to Beris annoyance was sometimes disfigured by molehills, which interrupted the flow of the lawns. Photos are included but this isnt a coffee table book for interior design buffs. Each room has particular memories for Klein. And her journey through them is also a psychological quest, an attempt to understand how the house shaped her personality and whether she can ever get free of her attachment.

She couldnt wear a Laura Ashley dress without him mocking her: 'You look like the inside of a Victorian toilet'

Her fathers strict orthodox Jewish upbringing in Yugoslavia might have led him to become a rabbi but then disenchantment set in during his religious studies in Jerusalem. A place at art school kept him safe there during the war, unlike his relatives murdered in Auschwitz. In 1945 he came to Leeds to study textile design, where he met his wife to be, Peggy. He felt like an alien, paprika in a large British stew, but being an outsider didnt hold him back. Having set up several mills in Scotland, he made fabrics for Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. The house played its part in his success, hosting fashion shows and photography sessions with models striking poses against the Mondrian-style exteriors.

High Sunderland has no attic, no cellar and very few doors. A house without secrets or ghosts, a museum of rationalism, with everything out in the open: such was the intention. Reacting against the transparency, the young Shelley aspired to be opaque, clouded, un-see-able through or at least to have a door on her bedroom. Keeping things from Beri made her feel guilty but it was the only way not to be overwhelmed. Later she discovered that Peggy had a few secrets too, including a set of sherry glasses, hidden in the back of a wardrobe because their design and antiquity would have offended him. The memoir is suffused with grief at his death but honest about how exasperating he could be. The teenage Shelley couldnt even wear a Laura Ashley dress without him mocking her (You look like the inside of a Victorian toilet). Their arguments and banter, set out like dialogue in a playscript, are often hilarious.

Its a reviewers cliche to say of a book that the main protagonist isnt any of the characters but the place where its set. Here no such distinction can be drawn: My father was the house. The house was my father, Klein writes. Her dilemma, when he was alive, was finding room to be herself. As she realises when they are rowing over her having a puppy (The house isnt big enough, he tells her), High Sunderland was too small for anyone else because it was fully occupied. By him. Her dilemma, now hes gone, is whether she can bear to sell up. She had too good a start in life, a friend tells her, and she agrees: she has idealised her childhood, her father and the house so that nothing else compares. By the end she has worked out what to do. But its a difficult process, and this original, moving and bracingly honest book doesnt hide the pain of separation.

The See-Through House: My Father in Full Colour is published by Chatto (RRP 16.99).

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The See-Through House by Shelley Klein review a father's obsession - The Guardian

Medical Professor urges health system reform in scathing review of COVID-19 response – Newshub

"If the pandemic response strategy was and is to keep itout and stamp it out, then the hard work we have had to do to stamp it out clearly shows that we materially failed to keep it out."

Prof Gorman said he stopped off in Singapore on his way back from the Middle East in February, and noticed that the military had been mobilised at Changi Airport and that thermal screenings were in place with people being closely monitored.

"By contrast, I arrived home to no meaningful management of passenger movement, hence my comment that I think we squandered our main advantage of geography."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern closed the border to New Zealand except for returning Kiwis on March 19, as all of the cases of COVID-19 identified had related to people travelling and bringing the virus with them.

But not everyone returning to New Zealand was being quarantined, prompting National leader Simon Bridges to launch a petition signed by tens of thousands of people urging the Government to quarantine all arrivals, which was eventually adopted on April 9.

The Prime Minister defended the Government's response in a speech to Parliament, highlighting how the border was closed to all but returning Kiwis within 25 days of New Zealand's first case, compared to Germany which took 49 days and Australia 55.

But Prof Gorman said the pandemic has also underlined "significant problems" in the way New Zealand's health system is structured, governed and operated.

He said "systemic inefficiency" became evident as problems emerged in the supply of swabs, personal protective equipment (PPE) and influenza vaccine, as well as contact tracing inefficiency highlighted in an independent review.

"Ironically, the current situation also provides an opportunity to accelerate system reform... though I might suggest we temper our enthusiasm since the last comprehensive reform of our health system was in 1938."

He said the current 20 district health boards (DHBs) are largely autonomous, telling MPs: "What you're looking at is the success of provincialism over rationalism."

He said to get commissioning and purchasing of healthcare right, a fluid health system is needed where some services exist at a national level, some regional, some district, and some right down to people's homes.

Labour MP Liz Craig agreed that the pandemic has "started up the historic debate about how the Government should invest in public health infrastructure".

But she said there have been contrasting calls for more centralisation as Prof Gorman suggested and also calls for strengthening public health units - which were given a $55 million boost last week to improve contact tracing.

The Government invested $500 million into the healthcare sector in its initial COVID-19 response package unveiled in March.

"In the last few weeks we've put significant investment into central functions, but also strengthening that public health response in those units," Craig said.

Prof Gorman agreed that the public health units have been neglected and he acknowledged that there is no simple solution - but warned that if we don't get it right, a far worse pathogen could come along and push the health system to the edge.

"I think the COVID-19 pandemic gives us a chance to identify what we need to do better before we encounter a potentially much worse pandemic," he told the committee.

"Without being melodramatic, if we don't seize this opportunity, I think our children and our grandchildren have every right to judge us very harshly."

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Medical Professor urges health system reform in scathing review of COVID-19 response - Newshub

MOHAMED BAKARI – The Return of the Repressed: Religion in the Fictions of Leila Aboulela and Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye – The Elephant

There seems to be a resurgence of the kind of genre in the contemporary world where religion, initially thought to be on the wane, is actually reasserting itself in various ways. One of the most conspicuous voices, for example, in contemporary America, is Marilynne Robinson, whose works are followed with keen interest. We however are sceptical that such themes can sustain writers in the long run, and will label them as genre writers. This seems to us as the return of the repressed, in the classical Freudian sense, in the sense that themes that were becoming increasingly repressed in secular societies are finding their way back into the public consciousness through the works of gifted contemporary novelists.

Literature is often a mirror of the period in which a work of art has been created. It is for this reason that we often frame literary texts within the time period that the texts are created. It is this assumption that we neatly categorise within the historical period that they were created. It is for this reason that we describe fictions as say, Victorian, Industrial Revolution, Edwardian, Modernist, and so on. This is particularly true of English literature. Other literary traditions have different ways of categorising literary productions. For example, postcolonial literatures are often categorised on the basis of the trauma of colonialism: pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. Literatures of the Islamic Middle East have added categories such as post-Ottoman, pre-revolution, revolutionary, apart from the classical jahiliyya and post-jahiliyya periods.

An implicit but unspoken assumption in all these categorisations is that at a deep level, these literatures are underpinned by a certain spirituality, be this Christian, Islamic or Hindu. Behind this assumption is the given that the earliest forms of literary production were saturated with the mystery surrounding creation, institution building and the mores of society. These mysteries gave rise to the earliest forms of literature and mythology. Humans created stories to explain to themselves the incomprehensible and these stories at a certain point became the basis of religious beliefs and philosophical speculation. Without these stories, there would neither have been religious belief, philosophy nor science. The unstructured reality began to take shape only when mythology was created. The gods and goddesses that we created ourselves and then began to worship, were a step towards self-realisation. The earliest gods and goddesses had the same flaws as us human beings, they were assailed by the same weaknesses that we found in ourselves, and they became a sure mirror of the human person, with all his/her frailties. Later, the heroes, during the heroic age, again reflected our own wishful thinking.

With the rise of critical philosophy and the scientific method, there was no attempt to abandon the mythic in human history. It was assumed that, although now we started to think in more abstract terms, not everyone was capable of benefitting from this new worldview. It was taken as a given that, in human societies, there will be those among us who will be unable to make the mental leap from the concrete to the abstract, and for this reason, it was necessary to defend mythology as part of human heritage, a part that has its significance in transmitting ethic and moral values from one generation to the next. As such, discussions of such human values as virtue, justice, friendship, could only be transmitted through the silly stories of mythology. This is well articulated by Luc Brisson in How Philosophers Saved Myths: Allegorical interpretation and Classical Mythology. This was ol time religion.

The Bible, the Quran and the Vedas brought new kinds of stories, whose underpinning was the construction of new moral orders. The new texts brought in their wake the new religions of Islam and Christianity, but Hinduism, Shintoism and Traditional African and Amerindian religions are still remnants of the primeval spiritual order. There has always been what the British Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has called the Persistence of Faith throughout human history, to the present.

In the Western intellectual tradition, the Renaissance is hailed as a New Era, but in fact, it was no more than an attempt to reclaim through the back door the pagan spirituality deriving from Classical and Late Antiquity. The intellectuals of the period, be they artists, creative writers or philosophers, were weary of the stranglehold of Christianity on all aspects of society, and sought to liberate themselves from this straight-jacket. Other, non-Western, societies did the same by creating a discourse counter to that of the religious. That is how the Arabian Nights were born, from ancient India all the way to what is today the Middle East. This was something like a literary carnival, where imagination was allowed to run wild outside the orbit of religion. These were all attempts at circumventing the official discourse dominated by men of religion and sanctioned by the rulers. Contemporary World Literature is incomprehensible without this mythological, spiritual background, because whether we speak of Greek/Roman mythology, African, Hindu or Japanese or Amerindian mythologies, the Holy Scriptures of Christianity, Islam or Hinduism, these are part of the collective unconscious, and form an important part of the inter-textuality necessary to self-referentiality.

Creative writers have for centuries situated themselves within particular spiritual traditions while creating works of art. This is taken for granted in the West. The medieval period in the West is considered collective because all European societies, without a single exception, went through the long experience of Christianity, from the tenth century all the way to the early twentieth century, with intermission for the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Although writers are situated within particularistic traditions, some, because of their intellectual versatility, have dipped into traditions that are not primarily their own, and claimed them for themselves by taking allusions from those external traditions. For example, Dante borrowed from the story of the Ascension of Prophet Muhammad to Heaven as recounted in the Hadith of the Prophet to construct his Divine Comedy. Or, to take a more contemporary figure, in his novel Spiders House, Paul Bowles uses the story of the Prophet Muhammads anecdote about his being protected from his enemies by hiding in a cave on his way into exile in Medina. Spiders form a protective wall with their web which stops his enemies from pursuing him further. Or Salman Rushdies constant allusions to Hindu mythology in Midnights Children.

This cross-cultural enrichment does not necessarily mean that writers do not situate themselves solidly within their religious traditions. Indeed they do.

The two writers that we have chosen, Leila Aboulela, a Sudanese novelist currently based in Aberdeen, Scotland, and Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, are examples of novelists who still stick to religion as their default mode of literary exposition. Both use fiction to advance their sectarian viewpoints without being offensive to secularists or the non-religious in general.

Leila Aboulela, throughout most of her fictions, novels and short stories, has tried to defend Islam as a spiritual religion, and not a political religion. That she should hold such a position is evident from her own background as a Sudanese. Mystical Islam, with its headquarters at Omdurman, is very much part of the Sudanese landscape. In fact, modern Sudan is dated at the point the Sudanese resisted British colonial encroachment under Lord Gordon Kitchener in the nineteenth century. Led by Muhammad al-Mahdi, Restorer of the Faith, the Sudanese rallied under his mystical brotherhood to push the British out, resulting in the death of Gordon. This millenarianism galvanized the Sudanese into a national consciousness embedded in Islam. Like much of West Africa, society in the Sudan is organised partly around belonging to a brotherhood. The brotherhoods double as communities of self-help and also as spiritual sanctuaries complete with an organisational structure. The main activities of these Sufi brotherhoods are centred on remembering Allah and his ubiquitous presence in the thoughts and actions of individuals.

Image of Leila Aboulela

It is important to stress that Sufi religiosity is based on individual accountability that is ultimately anchored in internal purification as prioritised before the practice of ritual. It tends to de-emphasise the legalistic aspects of the faith, unlike for the Salafis, for example, who give importance to the minutiae of ritual practice. This legalistic emphasis on the part of the Salafis pits them against the purely spiritual emphasis of the mystics.

Leila Aboulela, in her fictions, is at pains to point out that what is done in the name of Islam has nothing to do with Islam, and that those who are prone to violence only do so after they have politicised Islam by demanding, for example, the establishment of an Islamic state, the Khilafah, or Islamic Caliphate. Sufi immersion in God-consciousness is considered a form of escapism from the challenging political and economic realities of the Islamic world. On their part, the Sufis accuse the Salafis of sanctimonious ostentatiousness and consider themselves to be the real upholders of the prophetic message of peace and love, without at the same time holding to the highest standards set by the Prophet himself.

On reading Aboulelas fiction, one is left with the impression that she tries to compress the whole Islamic ethos and practice within her short fiction, where readers will not only enjoy the storyline, but at the same time gradually learn what the real Islam or Islamic practice is. In reading her fiction, we are taken through all the essential, but simple Islamic practices and beliefs without seeming to be coerced. The message is that Islam is such a practical and simple faith that it cannot be distorted or abused without exposing those who want to put the religion to their own nefarious uses. For example, Dr Nizar Fareed, a Salafi character in The Translator, is portrayed as well-intentioned but indoctrinated by rigid Salafi interpretations of the scripture and the practice of the Prophet. He emerges as inflexible, opinionated and self-righteous. He appears as some kind of cardboard character, uncritical and gullible, although kind and intelligent.

Leila Aboulela encapsulates the whole gamut of Islamic practice and belief in that short novel, The Translator

Leila Aboulela encapsulates the whole gamut of Islamic practice and belief in that short novel, The Translator. For example, she describes the cornerstone of Islamic belief as the absolute surrender to Allah in all ones actions, and believing that He is the one who proposes and disposes of the believers every action. They are helpless before His immense omnipotence. Although we may plan our actions, we must never lose sight of the fact that everything is preordained, and we should not be overly disappointed when things do not go our way. God consciousness entails our planning for the future, but not being deluded into believing that things will always go the way we have planned. This is the classical tawheed position, where, tawakkul, or total surrender to the will of God is the pure faith. Tawheed and tawakkul are the twin pillars on the road to sainthood. The fragility of human life makes it necessary for humans to acknowledge the presence of a force mightier than any human society can command. In fact, Sammar, the main protagonist in The Translator, is sustained in her grief by her total surrender to the will of Allah. Her strong faith sees her through unimaginable grief after the loss of her young doctor-husband in a tragic road accident in Aberdeen, Scotland, far from home, where she finds succour and help from absolute strangers whom she only knows through shared faith and belief in Islam. They take over the funeral arrangements, the washing of the body and its transportation to Khartoum for burial, without having known the deceased or the widow. They answer the call of Islam to help one another in a time of need, the true implementation of Islamic teachings. In a poignant scene, Aboulela, using Sammar as her mouthpiece, describes this communal involvement during the arrangements immediately after the death of her husband:

A whole week passed before she got him under the African soil. It had taken that long to arrange everything through the embassy in London: the quarantine, the flight. People helped her, took over. Strangers, women whom she kept calling by the wrong names, filled the flat, cooked for her and each other, watched the everwondering child so she could cry. They prayed, recited the Quran, spent the night on the couch and on the floor. They did not leave her alone, abandoned. She went between them dazed, thanking them, humbled by the awareness that they were stronger than her, more giving than her, though she thought of herself as more educated, better dressed.

Islamic teachings are inserted in a subtle way at appropriate places to create the desired effect. The Hadith of the Prophet are summarised and included as explanatory tropes to affirm Islamic teachings. For example, all the major issues at the core of Islam like tawheed, qadar, or predestination, prayers, charity, the apportionment of inheritance to both male and female inheritors, the etiquette of grieving for widows, are highlighted. These issues are introduced seamlessly without appearing as sermonising. As an illustration, Sammar tries to convince Rae, her new-found love, to recite the declaration of the intention to embrace Islam. She notes the simplicity of the creed itself by getting Yasmin, Sammars friend, to say that the creed has sometimes been abused or taken lightly, as some kind of fig leaf to mask relationships between a Muslim and a non-Muslim:

I have seen the kind of Scottish men who marry Muslim girls. Yasmin went on, The typical scenario: he is with an oil company sent to Malaysia or Singapore; she is this cute little thing in a mini-skirt whos out with him every night. Come marriage time, its by the way Im Muslim and my parents will not let you marry me until you convert. And how do I convert my darling, I love you, I cant live without you? Oh, its just a few words you have to say. Just say the Shahadah, its just a few words. I bear witness there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messanger of Allah. End of story. They get married, and she might as the years go by pray and fast or she might not, but it has nothing to do with him. Everything in his life is just the same as it was before.

On Tawakkul and destiny, Aboulela is also discreet in her explanation:

Her fate was etched out by a law that gave her a British passport, a point in time when the demand for people to translate Arabic into English was bigger than the supply. No, she reminded herself, that is not the real truth. My fate is etched out by Allah Almighty, if and who I will marry, what I eat, the work I find, my health, the day I will die are as He alone wants them to be. To think otherwise was to slip down, to feel the world narrowing, dreary and tight.

Further on in the novel, Sammar ascribes her steadfastness and hope to spiritual underpinnings. Her spirituality acts as a shield that protects her from hopelessness and resignation: She had been protected from all the extremes. Pills, break-down, attempts at suicide. A barrier was put between her and things like that, the balance that Rae [her love] admired.

Leila Aboulela compares the real rational position of Islam, based on transcendence and the rationalism of the empiricist and positivists of the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries. In the words of Rae, who hovers between positivism and doubt,

In this society, he said, in this secular society, the speculation is that God is out playing golf. With exceptions and apart from those who are self-convinced atheists, the speculation is that God has put up this elaborate solar system and left it to run itself. It does not need Him to maintain it or sustain it in any way. Mankind is self-sufficient . . .

The rational and plausible Islamic belief system is validated by the, until then, non-Muslim Rae. Having read Islamic religious and other literature, he is gradually won over by this rationality. But he validates Islamic tenets through a third party, Raes uncle who went native or in Tudor parlance, turned Turk. He quotes from Uncle Davids epistolary confession:

David never of course said that Islam was better than Christianity. He didnt use that word. Instead he said things like it was a step on, in the way that Christianity followed Judaism. He said that the Prophet Muhammad was the last in a line of prophets that stretched from Adam, to Abraham through Moses and Jesus. They were all Muslims, Jesus was a Muslim, in a sense that he surrendered to God. This did not go down very well in the letter nor in the essay.

Leila Aboulela takes the opportunity in her fiction to also explain how the Sacred Hadith, or what are better known as Hadith Qudsi, the second most important source of authority after the Quran, came about, while dictating to Rae, who gave her the assignment:

She sat on the floor of the landing and read out, over the phone, the notes she had made from the book. A definition given by the scholar al-Jurjani, A Sacred Hadith is, as to its meaning, from Allah Almighty; as to the wording, it is from the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him. It is that which Allah almighty has communicated to His Prophet through revelation or in dream and he, peace be upon him, has communicated it in his own words. Thus the Quran is superior to it because, besides being revealed, it is Allahs wording. In a definition given by a later scholar al-Qari, . . . Unlike the Holy Quran, Sacred Hadith are not acceptable for recitation in ones prayers, they are not forbidden to be touched or read by one who is in a state of ritual impurity . . . and they are not characterized by the attribute of immutability.

This is heavy stuff for the uninitiated, and requires extra work to understand this background, even for an average educated Muslim, let alone one who is completely unfamiliar with the Islamic intellectual tradition. This is the kind of intertextuality that is not easily accessible for western readers who mostly read texts from the Western intellectual tradition, and whose allusions are generally familiar. Postcolonial writers now demand that Western readers also exert themselves in order to benefit fully from their reading, just as non-Western readers have to immerse themselves in the Western intellectual tradition to fully enjoy literature emanating from the West. In a recent collection of essays, Can Non-Europeans Think? the Columbia University Iranian American scholar Hamid Dabashi decried the provincialism of Western intellectuals. He argues that rarely do Western intellectuals bother to educate themselves about the intellectual traditions of the others, although they will not shy away from making uninformed pronouncements about those societies that they know little about. He gave the example of Slavoj Zizek, who knows a lot about Marxism and the Western Intellectual tradition, but next to nothing about the Eastern ones. In his view, there is a lot of navel-gazing among them, unable to appreciate other traditions unless they are themselves area specialists churning out papers for policy think tanks, and regurgitating the same orientalist pieties.

Leila Aboulela assumes herself a conscientious and responsible Muslim, whose obligation it is to portray what she believes is the real image of Islam, untainted by its association with the Islamic lunatic fringe hell-bent on wreaking global terror, without any sectarian differentiation. It is through literature that she feels she can best serve her faith. She is conscious of the fact that as a liberal Muslim, she is under constant pressure, like all liberal Muslims to condemn acts of violence perpetrated in their name by their co-religionists. In a column in the British Guardian entitled Why Must Britains Young Muslims Live With Unjust Suspicion? she described the double jeopardy of these liberals:

The causes and solutions can be hotly debated but it makes little difference to the daily life of Muslims. Until this climate [of fear and suspicion] eases, the day-to-day anxiety, the feeling of being tainted, of being tested, will still be the same. Ironically, it is the liberal integrated Muslims who bear the brunt. On them lies the responsibility of explaining and apologising. If you live in the kind of ghetto where you never read newspapers, never make friends with non-Muslims, never participate in sports, you can feel safe and oblivious. Start to engage and you will immediately realise just how careful you need to be. Young British Muslims are being watched. This is not paranoia. This is just how things are after 9/11 and 7/7.

From the above it is clear that Leila Aboulela took it as her mission to explicate the tenets of Islam to a wider public as a contribution to mutual understanding between Muslims and people of other faiths and other worldviews. A hard sell this, the defence of Islamic values under the present climate of fear and suspicion. One may also wonder how much mileage she can extract from mining this theme, even under these trying circumstances.

Unlike in the fiction of other writers of Islamic faith, where Islam merely forms the background, as in Nuruddin Farahs later fictions The Closed Sesame and Crossbones, and Naguib Mahfouzs Cairo Trilogy, Leila Aboulela is deliberate in foregrounding Islamic belief system and practice. It is as if she was an author with an agenda, which she turns out to be in this particular fiction. In this regard, her creative work has more affinity with that of Marilynne Robinson who puts her creative energies to wearing her religion on her sleeve, as does Aboulela in The Translator.

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, who died in December 2015, is a Kenyan novelist of British descent and a lay Protestant missionary. She came to Kenya in 1954 to work for the Church Missionary Society, fell in love with the country and in 1960 married Dr. Daniel Oludhe Macgoye, a local doctor from the Luo tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, with whom she had four children. Over the years, she took all the necessary steps to become fully integrated into Kenyan society, and especially completely within the Luo culture; she learned the language to complete spoken and written fluency and accepted almost all aspects of Luo tradition, except those she deemed inimical to Christian values and virtues.

Image of Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Macgoye is a well-informed and conscientious novelist, having graduated with a degree in English literature from the Royal Holloway College, University of London, and later earned a Masters from Birkbeck College, University of London. Her grasp of Kenyan political history, and the social changes that she has witnessed personally throughout her extended stay in Kenya, put her in the same intellectual league as the most famous Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiongo. In fact, Macgoyes fiction covers the same terrain as that of Ngugi because they seem to have lived almost the same experiences of colonialism and post-colonialism, and their works are a mirror of contemporary history through their neo-realism.

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye arrived in the country when she was barely in her mid-twenties, and lived the next sixty years mostly in Kenya, with a short interlude in Tanzania as the bookshop manager at the University of Dar es Salaam. During her long residence in Kenya, she witnessed almost all the major political events that shaped the nation: the Mau Mau insurgency, independence, the struggle to create a unified nation out of a welter of ethnicities, tribes, religions and political ideologies. As acute observers of the Kenyan political scene, both Ngugi and Macgoye write proletarian fictions populated by perplexed and dislocated rural masses and the lumpen proletariat who have washed up in the urban areas because of colonialism and post-independence mass migration.

Macgoyes fiction is populated mostly by female characters, strong women who struggle against all odds. They are mostly uneducated but pick up street smarts as they go through lifes trajectory. Female characters like Paulina and Amina are portrayed as strong characters, Amina with her strong entrepreneurial spirit, and Paulina gradually asserting her individuality in the face of constricting tradition.

The main theme in Macgoyes best known fiction, Coming to Birth, is the interrogation of anachronistic obsolescent cultural traditions

Perhaps the main theme in Macgoyes best known fiction, Coming to Birth, is the interrogation of anachronistic obsolescent cultural traditions. In fact, it appears that in the case of this particular novel, many aspects of Luo culture are held up to be antithetical to all that Christianity stands for. The novel critiques such time-honoured cultural practices as polygamy, levirate marriages, lavish and extravagant wake and funeral practices and the cultural sanctioning of domestic violence in the form of wife beating.

Although the Luo as an ethnic group is considered overwhelmingly Christian, this Christianity is more a veneer than actual substance. The Luo are portrayed as stuck in the cultural past more than many other ethnic and cultural groups. The Luo are held up and judged by the highest Christian practices and standards, and are ultimately found wanting. But in the tribal world of the Luo, cultural practices were considered more humane than the dictates or demands of Christianity. We see, for example, Paulina, the main protagonist in the novel, going through miscarriages, the harassment of being a childless woman in a society that believes in the strength of numbers, the grief of losing a child obtained outside the matrimonial bed, and the state of limbo that the husband keeps her in because, in Luo culture, once a woman is married, she is married for ever as her husband has a permanent claim on her, however cold the relationship throughout their lives. The husband is never sanctioned for shunning her, physically molesting her and completely neglecting her. Christian values are merely paid lip service. In fact, there is general apathy, if not outright cynicism, towards Christianity among the majority. Martins alienation from Christian practice is held up as the general religious malaise afflicting the new generations of post-independence Africans. The narrator notes of Martin that:

He did not regularly go to church any more, though he might go if there was a special speaker or if he felt particularly at odds with Paulinas having sometimes to work on a Sunday. The climate had changed from the days when you used to say, I am a Christian but I am not yet saved. To praise the Lord no longer helped you to get a job, and though the top people attended places of worship in surprising numbers they were eager for a quick getaway. It was another way in which light was going out. People talked about religion on buses, in queues, in cafes you heard them talking, but often as though it was something dull, outside themselves.

The celebratory ambience in Luo mourning practices is brought into sharp relief by Macgoye. By letting a comment slip off the mouth of a Kikuyu, a people who are noted for their industriousness in wealth accumulation, the macabre Luo enthusiasm for partying on such occasions is described with a pithy comment from a shopkeeper. In the words of the narrator:

Kano had kept the old hedged homesteads more exactly than the other locations, and also a bigger share of the old plumed headdresses: teams of male dancers bedecked with feathers and bells and intricate chalk patterns were often to be seen going off to the funerals and other public occasions like the Kisumu Festival. Okeyo used to get excited, chattering and pointing till she restrained him, so that the kikuyu shopkeeper remarked somberly, He is a real Luo: more keen on a funeral than anything else.

Okeyo was the child that Paulina had begotten outside her marriage with Simeon, a clansman of Martins, and who was fatefully killed by a stray bullet during the funeral procession of the legendary Kenyan politician, assassinated in broad day light, in one of Nairobis busiest streets, on a July day in 1969.

As a counterfoil to Christianity and Christians, Islam and Muslims are portrayed in a less than flattering light through the characters of Amina and Fauzia; as either whores or parents pimping for their own children for survival and livelihood. Both Amina and Fauzia are held responsible for the loosening ties between the rural import, Paulina and her urbanised Martin. Both Amina and Fauzia come out, not only as femmes fatales, but also as some kind of mercenaries out to fleece Martin and lure him to the temptation of sin in the form of nice food, nice dresses and perfumes. Pauline was later to see with her own eyes what Nikos Kazantzakis described these nubile nymphs as: This labyrinth of hesitation, this poison that tastes like honey. Pauline wanted to find out for herself what life for Martin was like in Aminas grip:

Amina proved unexpectedly expert with powder and feeding bottle and soon afterwards approached the pastor about baptism for the child but bowed to the rule that since there was no Christian parent, Joyce must make her own profession when she could read and write. The baby made a good pretext for Pauline to come and see Amina from time to time. Little by little she built up a picture of a world quite remote from her own, a world of gay wrappers and jingling bracelets and perfumes and spicy dishes, where slim men with bony features came and went, for what purpose one was not quite aware, and of town houses where these urbane traditions from the coast somehow collected themselves despite the bare crumbling walls and the outlandish cold . . .

Swahili culture is taken as a synecdoche for Islam and all that it stands for, what are perceived as its negative influences among the relatively recent native converts to Christianity. Fauzia was later to be warned of the possibility that he, Martin, might take another wife, but of a different kind:

And so he told her that when he took a second wife she must be a Christian who would leave her hair unplaited and her ears without ornament, who would dig in the fields and plaster walls and leave her children fat and naked. But she only laughed and said she must enjoy herself a while longer.

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye seems to believe her duty is not to be even-handed when she has to confront the reality that Islam is a major religion and a rival to Christianity in Kenya. In this regard, she takes the opportunity to show what she considers the superiority of Christianity over Islam. She uses her fiction to re-affirm her own faith and its tenuous hold on the relatively new converts on the African continent. Her last work of fiction, Rebmann, is a celebration of the efforts of pioneer missionaries like Rebmann and Krapf, who ventured into Africa in the middle of the nineteenth century to win the flock for Jesus Christ in what was then unexplored terrain in the heart of Africa, or the Conradian Heart of Darkness, as Africa was perceived then. Macgoye was later to come to Kenya under the auspices of the same organisation that sponsored the German missionary, the Church Missionary Society.

Looking at name use in her Coming to Birth, there is a lingering feeling that Macgoyes ancestors, probably Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who migrated to England from continental Europe to escape pogroms there, might have converted to the Anglican Christian rite upon their settlement. Female characters are given common scriptural names pointing to Old Testament antecedents, names like Paulina, Rebecca, and Rachel, names popular with people of Jewish background. Again, one of her more obscure fictions set in Kenya is A Farm Called Kishinev, described as a fairly comprehensive picture of Kenyan Jewish experience.

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoyes working class background and sympathies enable her to empathise with the plight of the African poor and downtrodden. Her descriptions of the African great unwashed is accurate in that it is described as a life of ceaseless want and deprivation. Nairobi is notorious for its parking boys, an expression that is a euphemism for abandoned and homeless kids, who are often orphaned and use their street-smarts to survive in a highly competitive and unforgiving environment. Their situation is so dire that they have to live off dustbins, and sometimes resort to using human waste as a weapon to extort money from passers-by threatening to smear them with it if they do not respond generously. The tough struggle for survival is described with pathos, in the words of one such street urchin:

So my dad said we couldnt go on to school for a while because he need all his money to get another woman to look after us. And when he was there she was alright to us, but she started going queer when she got her own baby: then she hated the sight of us and used to beat us for every little thing. And then last year she started saying that she didnt get married to come and live in a back-of beyond village with a load of kids, and not any rice or hair oil or nice soap like her friends had for their babies, and only seeing her man one day or two in the month, and then she started to drink. And then she didnt cook everyday, and never early in the morning, and started saying it was our fault that my dad didnt pay her attention. He only wanted his first wifes children and all that. In the end my little brother got so hurt he ran off to his granny: she doesnt have much, but she likes him and tells him stories. But my sister had to stay to look after the baby, so my dad said. But me, she said I didnt do anything around the place but eat, and so one day when she beat me worse than usual I ran to my friends big brother who is a conductor on a country bus, and he talked with his dad and put some ointment on the bad places and gave me a ride on the bus free. That was about two months ago.

He didnt know anything, put in Muhammad Ali. Lucky for him I found him wondering about. I showed him the temples, where they give you free food if there is celebration going on. And how to find the eating places, where good food sometimes gets thrown out when they close, and how- well, all sorts of things I showed him. He just didnt know how to stay alive.

Macgoye captures the spirit of anxiety and desperation among those living on the edge.

Both Leila Aboulaela and Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye have used the art of fiction to push their religious agenda, using fiction to both affirm and defend their belief systems in a world that had increasingly come to see religion as dragging us to the medieval bloodletting that so characterised that period. But of late, there has been an upsurge in writers who have unashamedly proclaimed their fidelity to the time-honoured beliefs of their societies and the era in which they are living. This is also an era when we see the rise of militant atheism too, that is challenging the religious discourse and looking for a much wider space than they have ever been accorded. The problem with this kind of genre, where fiction is put at the service of religious sectarianism, is that it soon becomes tiresome in its self-righteousness and tiresome for the secular-minded; these are often people who are also set in their ways of thinking, determined to draw a line between the religious and public space.

Excerpt from:

MOHAMED BAKARI - The Return of the Repressed: Religion in the Fictions of Leila Aboulela and Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye - The Elephant

Delingpole: Most Britons Still Too Scared to Leave Home – Breitbart

Scary propaganda has proved so successful that most Britons are now too frightened to leave their homes, either with or without a lockdown, an academic has warned.

Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, told BBC Radio 4s Today programme:

Many people are definitely overanxious about their chance of both getting the virus and the harm they might come to if they do get it.

He added that the British governments message for everyone to stay at home unless strictly necessary had been slightly too successful and that perhaps there should now be a campaign to encourage people to get out and start living again.

As Lockdown Sceptics reports, this problem has been confirmed by polling.

[The Government] has whipped up the public into such a frenzy of blanket-clutching fear, aided and abetted by the hysteria of the mainstream media, that a significant percentage may not dare venture outside for non-essentials. According to polling by Ipsos Mori, more than 60 per cent of people would feel uncomfortable going to bars and restaurants or using public transport after the lockdown is over, more than 40% would be reluctant to go shopping or send their children to school and more than 30% are worried about going to work or meeting friends.

Britains lockdown, it is becoming increasingly clear, is now driven more by political calculations than scientific ones. Boris Johnson and his nervous administration, crippled by their fear of opinion polls, lack the confidence to announce an end to the lockdown until they feel the public is ready for it.

This is the availability cascade of which economics professors Donald Siegel and Robert M Sauer warned in March, in one of the first major articles criticising British and U.S. lockdown policy.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, they described lockdown as amisguided social experiment designed by unelected public health officials and driven by the dangerous interplay between media and policy makers.

The phrase availability cascade was invented by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman to describe the vicious circle whereby public hysteria and craven politicians feed on one another with disastrous results.

According to Siegels and Sauers article:

An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement.

The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by availability entrepreneurs, individuals or organisations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines.

Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile: Anyone who claims that the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a heinous cover-up.

Britains mainstream media cheer-led by demagogues such as Piers Morgan has often appeared worryingly eager to play up the horrors of the pandemic, while doing little to raise concern about the economic and social damage of keeping an entire nation under virtual house arrest for weeks on end.

This is now beginning to change. The mainstream media, mindful of the massive damage being done to the economy and its own balance sheets by the hysteria it has itself generated, is working in coordination with the government to try to shift the public mood.

Here, for example, is the Sunquoting three former Chancellors, all warning that the UK economy may never fully recover from coronavirus crisis.

It begins:

Britains economy might never recover fully from the coronavirus crisis and Britain will not enjoy a V-shaped bounce, three former Chancellors have warned.

LaboursAlistair Darling, who was Chancellor during the last recession, said whether the economy recovers at all will depend on decisions the Government takes in the next three to four weeks.


His predecessor Norman Lamont warned of mass job losses, with companies finding they can operate with fewer people, while some businesses will disappear completely.

One frustrated British businessman, Simon Dolan, is now seeking to challenge the governments measures in a judicial review, which he hopes to support with a crowdfund. It is already almost halfway to reaching its 30,000 target.

Among his reasons for launching the challenge:

Small businesses continue to be badly affected. Businesses have been forced to shut, furlough staff and make cuts just in an attempt to survive.

Lockdown is also taking a huge toll on mental health and family life. Calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline are up 49%. Referrals for cancer tests have fallen by 76%. It is estimated that 18,000 more people with cancer could die because of the disruption.

We are depriving children of a proper education and instead teaching them to hide away from uncertainty rather than to confront it.

It is now universally accepted that the lockdown will cause enormous long-term damage to both the economy and the general health of the population. No-one will be untouched by its effects, but the poorest in society will be by far the most affected.

His concerns are echoed by an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph another MSM imprint now trying to dial down the hysteria and inject a note of pragmatism into public debate by Scott Atlas of Stanford Universitys Hoover Institution.

Atlas offers five facts that show lockdown is a mistake. They are:

But articles like this appeal to rationalism and not to the raw emotion now governing large swathes of Britain. The lockdown, it seems likely, still has some way to go.

Continued here:

Delingpole: Most Britons Still Too Scared to Leave Home - Breitbart

Dancing around the COVID hammer – The Jakarta Post – Jakarta Post

Now that most of us have been under lockdown for more than a month, how have we coped emotionally, economically, socially and politically?

For almost everyone, we have been stressed out of our minds. It is difficult to think rationally or objectively when we confront our own mortality, with very uncertain and tough choices in the months ahead.Online learning platform Course Hero vice president Tomas Pueyo puts the dilemmas simply when he contrasts the alternatives as Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. We need a hammer to lock down the pandemic quickly and aggressively.

The mitigation option is too slow, threatening to overwhelm our hospital facilities, causing high death rates, as Wuhan, Lombardy, Madrid,New York and London have all faced.After you have hammered (suppressed the coronavirus spread), the tough part of the dance is how to keep the coronavirus contained until we find the vaccine. If we keep the infection rate R below one, the epidemic dies down. To do so means wearing masks, keeping social distance and living and working very differently.With the lockdown come massive economic costs.

We forget to our peril that we are social animals.Few of us do well as loners. In the enforced lockdown, we struggle desperately to get out to meet friends and familybut also to self-reflect and understand why we are in this terrible dilemma. It is catastrophes like this that changed the world through new ideas.French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1640) abhorred the senseless destruction of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) so deeply that he created not just the philosophy of rationalism, but also the mathematical foundations of modern science.His most famous statement, I think, therefore I am is that of an individualist aware of his will and consciousness to think and act rationally.

Rationality meant excluding emotions, forgetting that all emotions are reflexive, that our fears or anger are magnified socially, spreading virally.

This individualism was captured by neoliberals to argue that individual greed can create social good. But carried to its extreme, modern individualism has become narcissistic and venalthinking that individual freedom is absolute

whereas the pandemic revealed that we live in social networks in which everything is interconnected, interdependent and therefore relative. Individual freedom comes with social responsibility. You cannot be selfish at expense of other peoples lives.

Ethiopian cognitive scientist Abeba Birhane recently challenged the Cartesian premise of individualism.Going back to African roots, she quoted Kenyan philosopher John Mbiti: I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am. None of us are self-contained because we are all permeated by genes and memes (ideas) through society. In the Zulu language, A person is a person through other persons.

Recognizing this and the fact that the economy is a social institution, the pandemic has exposed all the flaws and inadequacies of the current income-expenditure-debt model. We consume in excess because we are given credit in the form of debt. When we cannot pay, the government has to step in to create more debt. The Fed has just added US$2.4 trillion to its balance sheet to support the US economy.None of us, including central bankers, know how this will ever be repaid if the lockdown continues for much longer.

This is why smart re-opening of the economy will involve more testing, tracing and containment.But the honest truth is that the coronavirus is hiding in the weakest and poorest segments of society, as Singapore has found in its clusters of foreign workers. Rich countries can close their borders, but if the pandemic rages on in poor, over-populated countries, the pandemic will return through civil and border wars.

Thus, the hammer cannot kill the virus or the fly. We have to dance with the virus and prepare for its mutation and co-evolution with other viruses that will emerge with climate warming.

Many businesses are already adapting to the new online world of business transactions, in which many more of us will be working at home and interacting only digitally. The digital economy cannot be a one-way system in which the seller does not care about the income of the buyer.One reason why the Alibaba and Tencent platforms are much more user-friendly and sustainable than the Google and Amazon models is that the user can earn income so that they can also spend through these platforms.

The American models push sales through advertising and if you cant afford to buy, they can offer you credit cards. But the pandemic revealed that if you cant earn, you cant spend.Only when the platform is two-way and not debt-dependent, will it be sustainable.

Rather than thinking linearly that globalization will retreat, glocalization will accelerate with more localization of ideas and innovations that have global market appeal. Notice how in the United States, governors have performed better than the federal government. Spontaneous innovation is occurring in different communities to create diverse innovation in getting medical supplies, improving food chains and working on vaccines and other badly needed medicines. The virus spread through a one-size-fit-all globalization.Anyone can fly, so can viruses. Herd immunity is built through mass diversity.

But diversity also brings differences of opinion and therefore the polarization of politics, which is in a very dangerous blame-each-other phase. In the animal kingdom, all creatures large and small have a truce in equally going to the shrinking water pool during a drought. They do not hunt each other until after they had their share of water, and even then they kill only what they need for survival, not wantonly. Animals do not blame each other for the drought.

We must learn to dance with each other in harmony with our environment, rather than applying a hammer to each other and to every present and emergent problem. Not every problem is a nail nor is every person we disagree with an enemy.

The pandemic has opened up an important conversation that eluded us in our blind pursuit of individualism, freedom, democracy and money. The old era is gone with the virus.Whether we like it or not, we will have to reimagine and shape collectively what the post-coronavirus economy and society will entail.This can no longer be built top-down, but through a dialogue where everyone recognizes that we are all facing common and existential fates.

The coronavirus makes or breaks us as a community. That is the truce that we need before the dance.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.

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Dancing around the COVID hammer - The Jakarta Post - Jakarta Post

Politicians beg for satire. All you have to do is be militantly realistic – The Irish Times

Jessica Anthony: Both of us have written novels through the Trump administration, and both can be considered political. In 1962 James Baldwin gave a lecture called The Artists Struggle for Integrity, in which he said: The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers dont. Statesmen dont. Priests dont. Union leaders dont. Only poets.

No novelist wants to be a didact and polemical fiction fails for all kinds of reasons. There is something subversive and radical, it seems, about the nature of the poetic truth, in that it has to live beneath the fiction, and can never be stated outright.

I know that youve written deeply in nonfiction about the myriad offences of egg production, which is extremely tough to read; your new novel, Barn 8, feels even more political in that we as readers recognise these truths in it, and are forced to examine the fact that the novel so deeply entertains us. Its political because its emotional.

Deb Olin Unferth: It does seem that artists and writers have a closer chance at grasping at some kind of truth, since artists are beholden to no one, unlike statesmen and union leaders, all of whom have constituents depending on them is told.

Barn 8 is told from many points of view, all circling around one event-the attempted theft of one million chickens. That structure made it feel democratic somehow, the web of all these connected people and animals headed toward this single moment. And the question was: Would they make it? I was rooting for them, I can tell you.

When I was reading your book, Enter the Aardvark, I was struck by how much our novels have in common because yours also features a disrespected creature an aardvark as totem and star and centre of the show. Were you surprised by that?

JA: I knew that I wanted to write about a politician, but when I began, I didnt expect the stuffed aardvark to take over in the way that it did! I knew this politician would find his entire career obliterated in roughly 24 hours, but thought the aardvark would sort of disappear and make room for other disasters. But I quickly realised that the aardvark, stuffed in a taxidermists shop in Leamington Spa, England in 1875, could sort of move through time, and was amused by the fact that this innocuous stuffed beast could, 150 years later, offer some illumination about the hypocrisy and intransigence of your modern day right winger.

DOU: Which goes back to the point James Baldwin made about poetic truth. I think that writers can be as subversive as they like with very little consequence, if they are good enough at what they do and can be funny. Irish writers have long shown us how to be radical and political, without skimping on the philosophical, emotional, and hilarious. Its hard to imagine contemporary literature existing without their influence.

JA: Flann OBrien is the perfect writer for right now. We need a mischievous rogue in our ranks. I wonder what Samuel Beckett would have made out of Donald Trump? I cant see Beckett being beholden to constituents. He would probably transport them all to a pig farm. There was always some lightness and humour in Obama, and obviously in Bill Clinton. Trump is too mean to be funny. Watching ancient Joe Biden rise up from the ashes makes me wonder what kind of truth you might tell if you wrote about a character like him nowadays.

DOU: The politicians of today are easy targets, begging for satire and fiction is absolutely the place to describe where we are now in terms of the absurd. All you have to do is be militantly realistic. The more carefully and precisely you describe what you see, the more the craziness of the situation lays itself bare. For me the place where comedy or satire becomes art is when it makes you laugh, but then crosses for a moment into grief or pain or revelation: Molloy dragging that bicycle across the countryside. The sermon in Portrait of the Artist.

JA: Militant realism is right. I keep hearing everyone saying its so surreal whether theyre talking about the virus or the political situation but there is nothing surreal about this moment. This is hard core rationalism. Of course you have to laugh at all the excess, or youre doomed. I feel like Im constantly watching America trip, and take a nasty tumble down the stairs.

DOU: There is nothing surreal about this moment, except perhaps this one thing: doesnt it seem eerie that in this time of extreme partisanship all over the world, that we are suddenly faced with this global crisis that is going to require multi-level unity for us all to get through it?

That is the sort of plot move we love in fiction bring the whole set of characters to the edge of a cliff, push them off, and then pull them back with a rope in such a way that they all get tangled and injured as they crawl their way back to solid ground.

And isnt it a relief and a shock to watch the internet turn from the villian-pest it has been for the past five years into this loving space where we are all cooking dinners together, having virtual cocktail hours, and talking to our parents more than we have in the past decade?

JA: It is extraordinary to watch how people are coping or not coping. It is good to see people being kind to one another but as a novelist, I cant help but wonder what awaits us when the novelty dries out.

Two main revelations from the virus so far: 1) Soulless politicians are really shit at handling a global pandemic, and 2) the everyday, mundane life of the novelist staying in, writing, cooking, reading, going online is not all that different from living through a pandemic. Still, there is as much to learn, I have to believe, in the lovely way a person walking their dog skirts six feet around you and glances at you apologetically. Maybe the coronavirus will bring back basic politeness? An era of new civility?

DOU: And there is something to be said for all of us for making space for quieting the mind and pondering deep thoughts. I dont meditate but reading and writing quiet my mind. I do think that that practice, of sustained concentration, essential to clear thinking, is the only thing that can save us at this point.

JA: What you say about slowing down resonates: speed and habits of consumption keep us from each other and from the natural world. Its about the fight for a reasonable speed, so theres room for a least the tiniest bit of empathy. I think this is what I was getting at earlier. Its vital that our leaders possess thriving imaginations, so they can put themselves in the position of the people they represent.

Ive been reading a lot of Grace Paley lately. She said way back in 1982: We are in the hands of men whose power and wealth have separated them from the reality of daily life and the imagination. We are right to be afraid. And for that, as you say, we need to quiet the mind. My novel began back in 2012 when the phrase enter the aardvark appeared in my mind, a little scrap of poetry that I sat with for three years.

DOU: I love that your book came from three words. Isnt it crazy that something so small as an image or a few words can blow up into a long project that tries to bring together everything weve ever thought about?

I feel like the novel, the novel form, is precisely that: a snapshot of the authors mind, but in such a way that all that is contained in the millisecond of the snapshot is spread out over pages and pages, explaining every connection, every side alley, every philosophical belief, every political rant, every fist-banging or head-smacking or drowning-love revelation that the author has.

Complexity: thats what we need. No more simply signalling approval or disapproval by a smiley face or a frown. Life is so much more.

JA: Thats one of the real privations of social distancing. I rely on observing the complicated ways people interact every day, and never feel nourished going online--human behavior online is typically born out of vanity or politeness. Like the way a child behaves when she knows she is being watched. Maybe forced isolation will thicken fiction.

DOU: I have been using social media for many years now, since the earliest days it existed, and still I feel as you do, that it is mostly just vanity and politeness. When I try to express complexity, empathy, intimacy, it feels essentially empty.

JA: Something Ive found simultaneously hilarious and terrifying is how powerfully Donald Trump uses Twitter. The more reductive we allow our politicians to become, the worse off well be. One of the reasons right-wing ideology and nationalism has become so globally rampant is that were now regularly communicating through such bytes. Somehow this was all made okay campaigning online without any examination for what it does to ideas, the complexity of policy.

Obama is famous for his defense of the scalpel, not the machete. The less space we make to speak to one another, the more we have to simply pick a side and dig in our heels. All of us could stand to be a little more wrong. What frightens me, and has always frightened me, is that so many people are drawn to binary thinking, and genuinely believe that the lack of complexity is a sign of strength or decisiveness.

DOU: People are drawn to binary thinking, yes. You capture that in your novel with your right-wing politician, who is constantly thinking about what plays. One of my favourite details in your book is when he is watching, with increasing anxiety, the number of emails and texts he is receiving. The number rises and rises and rises. It is hilarious and tension-inducing, all that cyberjunk scrolling and scrolling, so representative of our time. There is no way to stop it, it doesnt even really exist, its accumulation is in our brain, not in space. In a novel there is an end point: the author must stop the book at some point, one way or another. But in the world it doesnt have to end, the scrolling keeps going, infinitely, madly, wretchedly.

JA: Yes, its in your novel, too in the minds of the men behind the chicken barns. Think about the kinds of emotion you have to block out to be even remotely okay with piling cage upon cage of birds, making them live in a stinking din, watching what happens to their minds and bodies as they are deprived: in a particularly twisted revelation, we learn that these binary thinkers figured out that hens lay eggs only in light, and so constant light is shone upon them. Maybe calling the publics attention to the dangers of this way of thinking not only the actions, but the thoughts behind the actions is part of the answer.Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony is published by Doubleday. Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth is published by And Other Stories and is reviewed in The Irish Times tomorrow

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Politicians beg for satire. All you have to do is be militantly realistic - The Irish Times

Dialogue: Relation of Mystery & Reason in Christianity – Patheos

From one of my blog comboxes: underneath my article,Dialogue w Orthodox on Why Catholics Become Orthodox.Words of Kshos23 will be in blue.


With regards to Orthodox accusing Catholicism of rationalism I suspect the main reason behind that is that Orthodox and Orthodox spirituality does want to give the faith more mystery. I remember an Eastern Orthodox monk once said that most eastern Church Fathers dont speak of the Resurrection of Christ directly and exhaustively, unlike some other things of the faith, precisely because its too great a mystery, and there are only snippets which you can gather from multiple fathers to come up with a some sort of more definite explanation. I also remember you doing a high-school Catholic apologetics interview with some students, and when you presented the Orthodox position on the Real Presence as being we dont know how it becomes the real body and blood of Christ, but it does, one of them funnily but legitimately responded with Isnt it better that way?, precisely because there is a certain beauty to mystery that was recognized.

So I think what the Orthodox are saying is that the Catholic practice of explaining the mysteries of the faith somewhat deprives it of mystery and profundity and the experiential flavor and beauty, and that this desire and sense-of-fittingness to have the things of revealed truth which are gloriously mysterious, beautifully transcendent and beyond precise human understanding is fulfilled in Christianity and should remain with regards to the deepest and most profound Christian mysteries.

We acknowledge mystery as well, but we think we can understand relatively more than the Orthodox claim we can understand. They think were over-rational; we think they are under-rational. Only Scripture and Tradition can resolve that difference.

When the Orthodox want to get very rational assuredly they do, too: for example, regarding the fine points of thefilioquecontroversy.

Well, what I was trying to get at is that the sense of mystery in the sense of the unknown as being beautiful, in contrast to explaining everything which takes away the magic. To be more specific, the sense of mystery Im talking about is the one expressed in your interview with high-school Catholics, where you explained the difference between Orthodox and Catholic views of the Eucharist, and how a Catholic girl responded to the Orthodox mystical view as Isnt it better that way?. Her response likely reflects this.

Again, we dontexplain everything. We explain as far as (we believe) the limits of human understanding of divine mysteries will allow. We just think the line is a bit further than Orthodox do. Who is to say who is right? We can only appeal to Scripture and apostolic, patristic tradition to make such a determination. I posted a chapter from my book about Orthodoxy on this issue today:Is Catholicism Unbiblically Rationalistic? (Orthodox Criticisms).

Im so much notagainst mystery and mysticism, that I edited a book of quotations of the great Catholic mystics.

The Catholic Catechismcontains the word mystery 183 times, and mysteries 33 times, andmysterious another 28 times.

Thats an awful lot of mystery for a communion that supposedly doesnt recognizeit (or to an extent less than it supposedly should).

See also, for example, #404: . . . the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. . . .


Photo credit:KELLEPICS(10-17-17) [Pixabay /Pixabay License]


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Dialogue: Relation of Mystery & Reason in Christianity - Patheos

Anbazhagan struck a balance between literature and politics – The Hindu

Having studied at Annamalai University when it was one of the greatest higher educational institutions in the State with some of the best minds, Dravidian stalwart K. Anbazhagan, who died on Saturday, struck a balance between his literary pursuits and politics.

He ran a magazine named Puthuvaazhvu, which was launched on a Pongal Day in 1948.

But unlike Murasoli [founded by former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi], Puthuvaazhvu confined politics to the editorials of the magazine. The other pages were dedicated to literature, social issues and book reviews. But it had no reservations when it came to criticising the Congress government, recalled K. Thirunavukkarasu, a historian of the Dravidian Movement.

Anbazhagan, who served as the general secretary of the DMK for 43 years till his death, was a great admirer of poet Subramania Bharati, though Dravidian leaders regarded Bharathidasan as the poet of their Movement.

If western scholars delve deep into Tamil and bring out its greatness, we appreciate their efforts. Similarly, we have to appreciate Bharathiar, and the question of his caste or race never comes into the picture, Anbazhagan had once told Mr. Thirunavukkarasu.

The DMK stalwart was keen on writing commentaries for Tirukkua and read almost every single work on the subject.

DMK founder C.N. Annadurai, who was lodged with him in jail in 1963, had recorded what he had seen in the cell.

Anbazhagan was surrounded by Valluvar. Yes. There was Parimelazhagars Valluvar, Parithimarkaignars Valluvar, Varatharasanars Valluvar, Ilakkuvanars Valluvar, Namakkallars Valluvar, Ki.Va. Jagannathans Valluvar and Manakkudavars Valluvar. He was writing a research book. I had the opportunity to discuss it with him, Annadurai had reminisced.

Anbazhagan later gave up the idea of writing commentaries on Tirukkua, arguing that there were already enough books on the subject. He did, however, author 30 books on various subjects, including literature, Tamil marriages and the Dravidian Movement.

While working at Pachaiyappas College, he would ride a bicycle to the premises. Recalling one of his classes in a book, Mu. Sathasivam, a former student of the college, noted: He taught Villibharatham for 40 minutes and dedicated 20 minutes to a conversation with students, and inculcated in them the idea of rationalism.

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Anbazhagan struck a balance between literature and politics - The Hindu

A star promise: Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan may find politics harder than doing the cigarette flick – Economic Times

Rajinikanth is realising that being in politics is much tougher than doing the cigarette flick. And he is not giving up. After coming under attack from both DMK and AIADMK for different statements, the 69-year-old superstar last week met the Rajini Makkal Mandram forum district secretaries in Chennai to show that he is serious about launching a political party. With Kamal Haasan already in the fray with his Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), and Rajinikanth expected to make an announcement in a few months, Tamil Nadu will be carrying forward its legacy of crossover politicians from the tinsel world. And this, soon after the death of J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, which many thought would mark the end of the politics-cinema tango.

The difference, however, would be that the new stars on the political stage are novices in public life. While MGR and Karunanidhi straddled the two fields simultaneously, often finding a symbiosis, Jayalalithaa apprenticed in politics for seven years under MGR before taking over the reins of the party in 1989. Kamal, who launched his party in February 2018, has already showed his commitment to go with the grind. MNM polled just 3.72% votes in its electoral debut last year, but proved to be a force to reckon with in cities, garnering more than one lakh votes each in Chennais three Lok Sabha constituencies.

Despite their relative inexperience in politics, the two actors are seen as potential alternatives to the two Dravidian parties that have alternated in government since 1967. While Kamals centrist position that promises to look at issues impartially has an audience, Rajinikanths spiritual politics may find takers in a land where parties that took birth from rationalism are filled with god-fearing men and women. For the citizen, they hold out the common promise of rooting out corruption. Which may make them worth trying out.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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A star promise: Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan may find politics harder than doing the cigarette flick - Economic Times

Accused Claremont killer’s contamination theory in tatters as state wraps up its DNA evidence with a bang – Sydney Morning Herald

After 24 days of DNA evidence being heard in the Supreme Court triple murder trial, it took the states DNA expert Jonathan Whitaker just two hours to reduce the likelihood of the contamination theory to almost negate and very low with Mr Yovich unable to reference another example of a similar contamination having ever occurred in any DNA lab across the globe.

During his testimony Dr Whitaker considered the defences contamination theory, which related to the source of the contamination being either an intimate swab taken from Mr Edwards rape victim, known as HV1, or a sperm cell extract created from the swab, known as 11J7.

He said based on only two DNA profiles being found under Ms Glennons fingernail sample when it was tested in 2008, he could almost negate the swab contamination theory.

I would think its not the case and the reason I say that is that there's no presence of [the Karrakatta rape victim's] DNA in the ultimate fingernail sample," he said.

"I qualify that by saying I cant appreciate or cant accept that there will be a way for [the victim's] DNA to selectively disappear from that swab and for you only to end up with Mr Edwards' in the final result."

And while Dr Whitaker said the sperm extract would not have had the rape victims DNA in it, he considered it extremely unlikely it could have had an opportunity to be spilled in the lab and then been left undetected for 13 months before finding its way into the AJM42 container.

Another difference that I would be alert to is that the extract is now a liquid which is kept frozen in the laboratory and so that needs to be out. It needs to have thawed, he said.

DNA liquid form ... tends to degrade and dry out, so again it needs to have persisted in the environment. It needs to have evaded all our cleaning regimes and controls, etcetera.

Considering that it dried and now becomes a flaky residue, that itself then has still got to get by some mechanism into these pots.

Dr Whitaker said the source, mechanism and opportunity for the contamination to have occurred was very low.

But I stress, we cant say never which is why I positioned it on my subjective scale right down at the bottom end, he said.

Dr Whitaker said if any escaped DNA was present in the lab for 13 months, it didnt contaminate any other exhibits tested in the lab during that time.

Prosecutor Carmel Barbagallo said it was the states case Mr Edwards DNA was found underneath Ms Glennons fingernails because she had fought him in the moments before her murder.

The accused man's DNA has gotten into the mixed DNA profile ... as a result of Ms Glennon scratching the accused man, or otherwise engaging with him in a violent and physical altercation at the time of, or close to her death, she said.

Ciara Glennon

Dr Whitaker agreed Ms Glennons torn left thumbnail on an otherwise well-manicured hand suggested she had inflicted the scratch on her attacker with significant force.

The considerations under that scenario are that Mr Edwards is present at the scene together with Ms Glennon, scratching occurs and that involves force that will promote the transfer of DNA to the nails, that's a one-step transfer which we call primary transfer," he said.

"So comparing and contrasting the pathways, we've got a one-step pathway under the first proposition, but a multiple step pathway under the alternative [contamination theory].

"On the probability of the evidence, if Ms Glennon had scratched Mr Edwards ... I would couch this on my subjective scale as moderately high to high."

During the trial, 10 recorded instances of contamination within the Pathwest lab have been recorded in relation to the 17,000-odd Macro Taskforce exhibits tested over two decades.

Nine out of the ten contaminations were by Pathwest scientists either involved in, or regularly present in the lab, during examination and testing of the samples.

Of the nine occasions, at least seven of them occurred prior to staff having to wear hair nets during DNA testing, and at least four before staff were required to wear face masks.

The increases to personal protective wear required inside the DNA lab grew as DNA technologies advanced and became more sensitive over time.

The only proven example of an unrelated exhibit contaminating a Macro-related item was in 2002, when a twig from Jane Rimmers crime scene recovered the DNA of the female victim of an unrelated crime whose intimate swabs were tested days earlier in the lab.

An investigation concluded the contamination was likely linked to a tube batch which was used for both extractions.

Mr Yovich also referred to a contamination event that occurred in a UK lab in 2007, when an ex-employees DNA was detected on a DNA test negative control blank 16 months after they had resigned.

Justice Stephen Hall.

An investigation into the event concluded while the staff member didnt have access to the DNA lab, she had had regular access to its freezer, as did scientists.

Mr Yovich, during the two times he brought up the incident, failed to mention that it was not known when the contamination occurred, suggesting it had occurred 16 months after the employee had resigned.

Having read the incident report, Justice Hall clarified with Mr Yovich during his cross-examination of Dr Whitaker that the contamination could have occurred while the employee was still in the lab, but was not detected until later.

Dr Whitaker said he was not aware of any example of DNA lasting longer than a year in the lab environment before contaminating an exhibit.

A situation of a staff member in a cold room whose been in there frequently - so DNA might build up and be detected later - is different to a single forensic item that has very little DNA on it appearing over a period of time, Dr Whitaker said.

"We conceive they could happen, but we try to put it under a level of reasoning and rationalism as to whether or not it's probable."

Following Mr Edwards arrest in 2016, DNA testing carried out on his reference sample when compared to the male DNA profile found underneath Ms Glennons fingernails, matched at every loci.

Institute of Environmental Science and Research forensic scientist Susan Vintiner said her analysis of the samples in 2017 found Mr Edwards was at least 80 million times more likely to be the contributor of the DNA profile compared to any other white Australian male not related to him.

Mr Edwards has admitted the DNA recovered from Ms Glennons fingernails matched his profile, but claimed he did not know how it got there.

Mr Yovich, during his opening statement at trial in November, accepted the chance of contamination was remote, but not impossible.

We accept that a scratching event, a direct scratching event of the sort that the state will rely on in proving a connection between the DNA found on these samples and the death of Ciara Glennon is a more likely circumstance, maybe a much more likely circumstance than a chance social contact, he said.

And again, we do not put forward a specific chance, innocent, social contact to explain the DNA.

We accept as well that the chance of contamination in a lab is usually remote although secondary transfer is known and documented in the literature.

But in circumstances where other incidents of contamination are known to have occurred we say, known to have been undetected for some time, your Honour will have to consider just how remote the chance was here and whether it can be safely ruled out even if it was remote.

On the eve of his triple murder trial, Mr Edwards admitted to the 1995 abduction and rape of a 17-year-old girl from Claremont, and a 1988 Huntingdale sex attack carried out on an 18-year-old woman.

He originally pleaded not guilty to the charges and allegedly repeatedly feigned disbelief at his DNA appearing on items relating to the attacks during his police interview, Ms Barbagallo said.

Evidence since heard in his murder trial has revealed Pathwest testing had concluded it 100 billion times more likely the DNA found on the rape victim's pants, and a semen-stained kimono left at the scene of the sex attack, belonged to Mr Edwards than any other person not related to him.

The mammoth murder trial on Tuesday adjourned until March 23, when the state will begin its fibre evidence, which it alleges links Mr Edwards to the murders of Ms Rimmer and Ms Glennon and his Karrakatta rape victim through common fibres found at the scenes.

The fibres allegedly originate from Mr Edwards' Telstra-issued work pants and the upholstery of his 1996 Holden Commodore VS Series I station wagon.

Mr Edwards has pleaded not guilty to the murders of Sarah Spiers, Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon.

The trial continues.

Follow WAtoday's live coverage of the trial, here.

Heather McNeill is the crime and courts editor at WAtoday.

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Accused Claremont killer's contamination theory in tatters as state wraps up its DNA evidence with a bang - Sydney Morning Herald

Fetishisation of prayer is ruining Islam – Ahval

One of several factors that has brought the Islamic World to its current sorry state is the fetishisation of Muslims daily prayers, or namaz.

Todays understanding of Islam has turned it almost into a religion of namaz, to such an extent that prayers take priority over the religion.

Firstly, we must interrogate the irrational and illogical approach to the religious duties that are known as the five pillars of Islam. Todays understanding of the religion says that these five bearing witness that Allah is the one true god, praying, fasting, giving alms and undertaking the pilgrimage to Mecca are the basic and mandatory requirements for Muslims.

Bearing witness is only required when one becomes a Muslim. Fasting for most Muslims is a tradition that comes once a year during the month of Ramadan. The haj pilgrimage only takes place for a short time. Zakat, the Islamic tax that is passed on to the needy, is collected annually. Prayer is the only one of the five pillars that is undertaken daily. In other words, of the five pillars of Islam, in daily practice there is only one prayer.

Can it be right to reduce a universal religion to what is, in the end, a series of ritual movements, rather than values like justice, freedom, equality, labour and love?

Let alone a religion, no human ideology can have a ritual as its essential norm. It is neither rational, nor Islamic to claim that prayer is more important than norms such as freedom and justice.

Prayers importance does not compare to these norms. A just person who does not pray is always superior to one who prays, but is unjust.

In fact, the five pillars of Islam are an apolitical innovation created for the religion long after its inception. Clearly, the centuries of investment in this innovation were made with a view to instilling todays view of piety a piety that does not give priority to morals, justice and freedom.

Let no one respond with the banal argument that focusing on prayer does not detract from other values. If you instil in a person the idea that gold is the most valuable thing in the world, but that apples are also important and then ask them to choose between the two, they will always take the gold.

We must understand that there is no causal link or even correlation between Muslim ritual worship and values like justice and freedom.

A striking example of this comes from the instances where people have been stampeded to death by their fellow Muslims during the practice of casting stones at the devil during the haj pilgrimage. Or, the reality that the Saudi Arabian government is neither just nor emancipatory despite its status as the guardian of Islams holy places.

A persons relationship with prayer is a subjective one. There is no universal correlation between prayer and any moral or political value.

A related topic is the characterisation of prayer as the sole marker of religion. People cannot imagine a religiosity that does not include prayer. Yet there are millions of people who never miss one of Islams five daily prayers, but still live their entire lives without reading a single book.

If we make prayer the focus of religion, then those who do not pray cannot be religious. But the Koran itself commands people to read, and if we focus on this, then it is the person who prays, but does not read who is irreligious.

We should take seriously the idea that it is those people who do not read or care for the environment and the world they live in who are not religious.

An understanding of piety centred solely on prayer is one that can achieve nothing beyond meaningless reassurances. The first volume of lmihal, the two-volume reference book on religion distributed to the public by Turkeys state Directorate of Religious Affairs is 584 pages long. Of these, 162 pages are on prayer. In the same volume, there are 24 pages devoted to faith in God, and 26 pages on cleanliness.

The second volume of lmihal is 558 pages long, and just two of these are on the environment. Another two pages are on ritual sacrifice. A single page refers to the correct way for Muslims to groom themselves, and an entire section related to work and labour rights takes just five pages. The section on the labour contract is roughly as long as the section on removing body hair.

Naturally, workers being shown the door by their bosses does not arouse as much interest in Muslim societies as the removal of body hair. Islam has been lowered to a collection of rituals and meaningless verses.

We all know that the point of this ritual-centred version of Islam is to manufacture a type of apolitical, anti-intellectual people who count obedience to the state or religious leaders as piety.

In this ritual-focused version of piety, prayer takes centre stage. With 162 pages devoted to it in a mundane religious manual, there are in fact many more literary tomes out there that delve further into the act of praying so much so that if the Sunni theologian Abu Hanifa himself were to rise from the grave, even he would be unable to carry out a prayer deemed proper according to all of the details.

What is even more tragic is that, with all those centuries and thousands of pages of scholarship devoted to the subject, it is said that nobody is able to properly perform prayers.

The idea that all our problems could be solved if we could only learn to pray in the right way has become commonplace. Apparently, Turkey, a country with 100,000 imams and just as many mosques, cannot solve its problems because it lacks the ability to pray correctly.

No one can criticise the view of prayer as a divine command, or its practice as a form of worship. This, in the end, is something that is up to Muslims themselves. But the fetishisation of prayer to the point where it defines Islam is causing great harm to the religion.

Muslims need to urgently decide whether their religions fundamental norms will be values such as freedom, justice and rationalism, or rituals like the act of praying and casting stones at the devil.

Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

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Fetishisation of prayer is ruining Islam - Ahval