United Nations

The Coronavirus and the Death of the Dream of a Disease-Free Future

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 10:13pm in

There has been one other consequence of the Coronavirus, apart from the immense toll its taken in tragic deaths, its disastrous impact on economies and social life around the world as trade and personal contact has been reduced to a minimum as countries go into lockdown. I doubt few people have noticed it, but I believe that the pandemic has finally killed the sixties dream of the conquest of disease.

It was an optimistic decade, and although the high hopes of technological, social and economic improvement and expansion ended with the depression of the 70s and its fears of overpopulation, ecological collapse, and the running out of resources, coupled with global terrorism, labour unrest and the energy crisis, some of that optimism still continued. And one of the sources of that optimism was the victories that were being won against disease. Before the introduction of modern antibiotics, diseases like tuberculosis, polio, diptheria and cholera were common and lethal. In the case of polio, they could leave their victims so severely paralysed that they had to be placed in iron lungs in order to breathe. Their threat was greatly reduced in Britain and the West through the introduction of antibiotics, as well as the improvements in housing, working conditions and sanitation. And these advances appeared to be global. Yes, there was still terrible poverty in the Developing World, but these emergent nations were improving thanks to the efforts of charities and the United Nations. The UN was helping these nations become educated through schools, setting up wells and other sources of clean water, teach their peoples about the importance of sanitation. Most importantly, it was actively eradicating disease through immunisation programmes.

The UN and the charities are still doing this, of course, often working in hostile conditions in countries wracked by dictatorship, corruption and civil war. But in the 1970s the world won a major victory in the struggle against disease: smallpox was declared extinct in the wild. Humanity had overcome and beaten a major killer that had taken the lives of countless millions down the centuries. Cultures of the disease still remain in laboratories, just in case it returns. But outside of these, the disease was believed to be finally extinct.

It was the realisation of the optimistic ideas contained in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. The series envisaged a future in which humanity had set aside its national and racial division, and become united. It had joined other extraterrestrial races in a benign Federation, a kind of UN in space, and embarked on a wave of space colonisation and exploration. It sent out ships like the Enterprise ‘to seek out new life and new civilisations’, and boldly split infinitives which no-one had split before. And part of that optimistic future was the victory over disease. It was still there, and there were instances where it ravaged whole planets. But by and large humanity and its alien partners were conquering it. That optimism continued into the subsequent series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation and the films. Serious diseases, which now regularly afflict humanity would be easily treatable in this future. In the third Star Trek film, The Voyage Home,  the crew of the Enterprise journey back to the 20th century to save the whale and thus the Earth of the future from an alien spaceship that somehow causes advanced technology to shut down. Entering a hospital to rescue Chekhov, who has been captured by today’s American army, McCoy finds an elderly lady awaiting dialysis. ‘What is this!’, he characteristically exclaims, ‘the Dark Ages!’ And gives her a pill. When next we see her, She’s fit and well and raising her walking stick in thanks to McCoy as he and the others rush past. Around her two doctors are muttering in astonishment about how she has grown a new kidney. And in the Next Generation pilot episode, ‘Encounter at Far Point’, McCoy is shown as an elderly man in his 120s.

Now medical progress is still being made, and people in the West are living much longer, so that there is an increasing number of old folks who are over 100. And some scientists and doctors believe that advances in medical science, especially geriatrics, may eventually lead to people attain the age of 400 or even a thousand. The last claim appeared on a BBC 4 panel game over a decade ago, in which various scientists and doctors came before the writer and comedian Andy Hamilton and the Black American comic, Reggie Yates, to argue for the validity of their theories. And one of these was that the first person to live to a thousand has already been born.

But such optimism has also been seriously tempered by the persistence of disease. Just as humanity was eradicating Smallpox, SF writers were producing stories about the threat of new killer diseases, such as in the films The Satan Bug and The Andromeda Strain, as well as the British TV series, Survivors. I think public belief in the ability of humanity to conquer disease was seriously damaged by the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s. This was so devastating, that some viewed it in terms of the Black Death, though mercifully this wasn’t the case. And after AIDS came bird flu, swine flu, and now the present pandemic. And unlike these previous health emergencies, the world has been forced to go into lockdown. It’s an unprecedented move, that seems more like a return to the response to the plagues of the Middle Ages and 17-19th centuries than the actions of a modern state.

The lockdown is necessary, and this crisis has shown that states still need to cooperate in order to combat global diseases like Coronavirus. Medicine is still improving, so that it’s possible that some people, the rich elite who can afford it, may enjoy vastly extended lifespans. But the current crisis has also shown that serious diseases are still arising, illnesses that now spread and affect the world’s population as a whole. And so the 60s dream of a future without serious disease now seems very distant indeed.

With a Quarter of the World’s Population Under US Sanctions, Countries Appeal to UN to Intervene

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/03/2020 - 5:24am in

The governments of China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela – all under sanctions from the United States – sent a joint statement to the United Nations Secretary-General, the UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Director-General of the World Health Organization calling for an end to the unilateral American economic blockade, as they are, “illegal and blatantly violate international law and the charter of the United Nations.” 

The eight countries, representing around one-quarter of humanity, say that Washington’s actions are undermining their response to the COVID–19 pandemic sweeping the planet. “The destructive impact of said measures at the national level, plus their extraterritorial implication, together with the phenomenon of over-compliance and the fear for ‘secondary sanctions,’ hinder the ability of national governments” in procuring even basic medical equipment and supplies, including coronavirus test kits and medicine. It is a “hard if not impossible deed for those countries who are currently facing the application of unilateral coercive measures,” to cope, they conclude.

The letter was shared on Twitter by Joaquin Perez, Venezuela’s Permanent Ambassador to the UN.

https://twitter.com/japerezve/status/1242996630065942529

That U.S. sanctions are “blatant violations of international law,” the letter states, is not in doubt. As the American Special Rapporteur to the UN, Alfred de Zayas, notes, only sanctions expressly verified and imposed collectively by the UN Security Council can be considered legal; any unilateral punishment is, by definition, illegal. De Zayas, a legal scholar, notes that sanctions are tantamount to a “collective punishment” against a population, an explicit violation of multiple articles of the UN Charter, the foundation of international law.

De Zayas traveled to Venezuela last year, describing the U.S. sanctions as akin to a medieval siege and accusing the Trump administration of “crimes against humanity.” The United Nations Human Rights Council formally condemned the U.S., called on all member states to break the sanctions, and even began discussing the reparations Washington should pay to Venezuela, noting that Trump’s sanctions were designed to “disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable.” None of this was reported in any major American media outlet at the time.

The sanctions meant that Venezuela was unable to import key medicines for conditions like cancer and diabetes, leading to scores of deaths. A 2019 report from the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research conservatively estimated the sanctions killed 40,000 Venezuelans between mid-2017 and 2018.

Yesterday, the Trump administration turned the screw tighter, putting out a bizarre hit on President Nicolas Maduro, offering $15 million to anybody who could bring him to them in chains. Other key figures like Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino and Head of the Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello also had bounties placed on their heads, supposedly because they were part of a drug trafficking ring.

The U.S. is also turning up the heat on COVID-19 plagued Iran. Senior Washington insiders like Newt Gingrich are dreaming that their sanctions will finally bring about regime change in the Islamic Republic. Sanctions led to the Iranian rial losing 80 percent of its value, with both food prices and unemployment doubling. While medicine is technically exempt from sanctions, in reality, Washington has frightened away any nation or corporation from doing business with Tehran. Even as coronavirus was raging through the country, no nation was willing to donate even basic supplies to Iran. Eventually, the World Health Organization stepped in and directly supplied it with provisions. An October report from Human Rights Watch noted that “the overbroad and burdensome nature of the US sanctions has led banks and companies around the world to pull back from humanitarian trade with Iran, leaving Iranians who have rare or complicated diseases unable to get the medicine and treatment they require.” At least 2,378 Iranians have died of COVID-19, many of them needlessly. 

Despite the embargoes they are under, many countries on the sanctioned list have contributed greatly to the world’s fight against COVID-19. Despite facing a shortage of basic supplies like soap, Cuba continues to export doctors and other medical staff around the world, often to the worst affected areas. Meanwhile, China, the original epicenter of the outbreak, appears to have come to grips with the pandemic and is now exporting its battle-hardened medical staff as well as huge quantities of crucial supplies. This has been presented in the U.S. as a dastardly plot to “curry favor” and shift blame away from their supposed mishandling of the virus in the first place.

The United States has long had a fractious relationship with the UN, constantly using its veto power to sink progressive legislation that would weaken its military, cultural or economic hegemony. In 2017, the U.S. formally pulled out of the UN’s scientific and cultural organization, UNESCO, in response to the group admitting Palestine. American sanctions are not popular at all in the world; in November, for instance, the UN voted 187-3 (U.S., Israel, Brazil) to condemn Washington’s embargo on Cuba. It was the twenty-eighth consecutive year with vote totals varying little from year to year.

The sanctioned countries warn that Trump’s actions are killing not only Americans at home but people all over the world. “We cannot allow for political calculations to get in the way of saving human lives,” they conclude. However, precisely because the U.S. has so much power on the world stage, it is unlikely their protestations will get them very far.

Feature photo | A person in protective clothing walks through a temporary 2,000-bed field hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2020. Ebrahim Noroozi | AP 

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post With a Quarter of the World’s Population Under US Sanctions, Countries Appeal to UN to Intervene appeared first on MintPress News.

Star Trek: Was Gene Roddenberry Influenced by Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ Novels

This is just a bit of SF fan speculation before I start writing about the really serious stuff. I’ve just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Pirates of the Asteroids. First published in 1952, this is the second of five novels about David ‘Lucky’ Starr, Space Ranger. In  it, Starr goes after the Space Pirates, who killed his parents and left him to die when he was four. He tries to infiltrate their organisation by stowing away aboard a remote-controlled ship that’s deliberately sent into the asteroids to be attacked and boarded by the pirates. He’s captured, forced to fight for his life in a duel fought with the compressed air push guns NASA developed to help astronauts maneuver during spacewalks. After fighting off an attempt on his life by his opponent, Starr is taken by the pirates to the asteroid lair of a reclusive, elderly man, one of a number who have bought their own asteroids as retirement homes. The elderly man, Hansen, helps him to escape, and the pair fly back to Ceres to meet Starr’s old friends and mentors from the Science Academy. Starr and his diminutive Martian friend, Bigman, decide to return to the old hermit’s asteroid, despite it having disappeared from its predicted position according to Starr’s orbital calculations in the meantime. Searching for it, they find a pirate base. Starr is captured, his radio disabled, and literally catapulted into space to die and the pirates plan to attack his spaceship, left in the capable hands of Bigman. Starr and Bigman escape, travel back to Ceres, which they find has been attacked by the pirates in the meantime, and the hermit, Hansen, captured. Meanwhile Earth’s enemies, the Sirians, have taken over Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. Starr reasons that the pirates are operating in cahoots with them to conquer the solar system, and that the pirates are taking Hansen there. He heads off in hot pursuit, seeking not just to stop the pirates and their leader before they reach Ganymede, but thereby also prevent a devastating war between Earth and Sirius.

In many ways, it’s typical of the kind of SF written at the time. It’s simple fun, aimed at a juvenile and adolescent readership. Instead of using real profanity, the characters swear ‘By space’ and shout ‘Galloping Galaxies’ when surprised or shocked. It also seems typical of some SF of its time in that it’s anti-war. The same attitude is in the SF fiction written by Captain W.E. Johns, the author of the classic ‘Biggles’ books. Johns wrote a series of novels, such as Kings of Space, Now to the Stars, about a lad, Rex, and his friends, including a scientist mentor, who make contact with the civilisation behind the UFOs. These are a race of friendly, humanoid aliens from Mars and the asteroid belt, who befriend our heroes. Nevertheless, there is also an evil villain, who has to be defeated by the heroes. It’s a very long time since I read them, but one thing a I do remember very clearly is the anti-war message expressed by one the characters. The scientist and the other Earthmen are discussing war and the urge for conquest. The scientist mentions how Alexander the Great cried when he reached the borders of India, because there were no more countries left to conquer. The characters agree that such megalomaniac warriors are responsible for all the needless carnage in human history, and we’d be better off without them. This is the voice of a generation that lived through and fought two World Wars and had seen the horror of real conflict. They weren’t pacifists by any means, but they hated war. It’s been said that the people least likely to start a war are those who’ve actually fought in one. I don’t know if Asimov ever did, but he had the same attitude of many of those, who had. It’s in marked contrast with the aggressive militarism of Heinlein and Starship Troopers, and the ‘chickenhawks’ in George W. Bush’s administration way back at the beginning of this century. Bush and his neocon advisers were very keen to start wars in the Middle East, despite having done everything they could to make sure they were well out of it. Bush famously dodged national service in Vietnam. As has the latest incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump.

But what I found interesting was the similarity of some the elements in the book with Star Trek. Roddenberry, Trek’s creator, was influenced by another SF book, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, as well as the ‘Hornblower’ novels. The latter is shown very clearly in Kirk’s character. But I suspect he was also influenced by Asimov as well in details like the Vulcan Science Council, subspace radio and the energy shields protecting Star Trek’s space ships. The Science Council seems to be the chief organ of government on Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan. Which makes sense, as Vulcans are coldly logical and rational, specialising in science, maths and philosophy. But in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books, Earth’s Science Council is also a vital organ of government, exercising police powers across the Terrestrial Empire somewhat parallel to the admiralty.

Communications across space are through sub-etheric radio. This recalls the sub-etha radio in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and shows that Adams probably read Asimov as well. In Star Trek, space communications are through ‘sub-space radio’. The idea of FTL communications isn’t unique to Asimov. In Blish’s Cities in Flight novels, the spacefaring cities communicate through normal radio and the Dirac telephone. The ansible, another FTL communication device, appears in Ursula K. Le Guine’s 1970s novel, The Dispossessed. What is striking here is the similarity of terms: ‘sub-etheric’ and ‘sub-space’. These are similar names to describe a very similar concept.

Star Trek’s space ships were also protected by force fields, termed shields, from micrometeorites and the ray weapons and torpedoes of attacking aliens, like Klingons, Romulans, Orion pirates and other riff-raff. The spacecraft in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books are protected by histeresis shields. Histeresis is a scientific term to describe the lag in materials of the effects of an electromagnetic field, if I recall my ‘O’ level Physics correctly. Roddenberry seems to have taken over this concept and imported it into Trek, dropping the ‘histeresis’ bit. And from Trek it entered Star Wars and Science Fiction generally. The idea is absent in the recent SF series, The Expanse. This is set in the 23rd century, when humanity has expanded into space. The Solar System is divided into three political powers/ groups: the Earth, now a united planet under the government of the United Nations, the Mars Congressional Republic, and the Belt, which is a UN protectorate. The Martians have gained their independence from Earth only after a war, while the Belt is seething with disaffection against UN/Martian control and exploitation. The political situation is thus teetering on the brink of system-wide war, breaking out into instances of active conflict. The ships don’t possess shields, so that bullets and projectiles launched by rail guns smash straight through them, and the crews have to dodge them and hope that when they are hit, it doesn’t strike anything vital. The Expanse is very much hard SF, and I suspect the absence of shields is not just the result of a desire to produce proper, scientifically plausible SF, but also a reaction to force fields, which have become something of an SF cliche.

But returning to Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ novels, it does seem to me that Roddenberry was influenced by them when creating Star Trek’s universe alongside other SF novels,  just as Adams may have been when he wrote Hitch-Hiker. Asimov’s best known for his ‘Robot’ and ‘Foundation’ novels, which have also been highly influential. But it looks like these other books also exercised a much less obvious, though equally pervasive influence through Roddenberry’s Trek.

Yemen: UN Medical Air Bridge Little More Than Saudi PR Stunt Say Desperate Patients

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/02/2020 - 3:47am in

AbdulKhaliq Abbas was overjoyed when he heard the much-hyped news that the Saudi-led coalition was finally going to allow humanitarian flights to take off from Yemen’s Sana’a Airport. Finally, he hoped, his five-year-old daughter Rua’a could travel aboard a long-promised UN flight to get medical care abroad. Today, Abbas is back to square one, frustrated that the long-awaited flights have not proceeded as promised.

Last week, the United Nations announced that an air bridge would finally begin to evacuate Yemenis to Jorden for medical treatment following two years of negotiations between the Houthi government in Sana’a and Saudi-led Coalition. So far, Just two flights have taken place, the first on February 3 and the second on  February 8. The UN promises that more operations will take place in the coming days, transporting patients to either Egypt or Jordan for specialized care.

Lise Grande, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen described the move as a very important step “It’s a day of hope. It shows that everyone wants the people who need help to get that help,” Grande said, adding, “The key is to have many flights, bigger planes so that the people who need aid can get to the places where they will receive it.”

However, the humanitarian non-profit the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that move comes too late. The NRC confirmed that thousands of Yemenis had been handed down a death sentence when the Saudi-led military coalition waging a war on Yemen closed down the Sana’a International Airport in 2016. “Today’s move comes too late for thousands of Yemenis who died waiting to leave the country for urgent life-saving care,” NRC’s Yemen Country Director, Mohammed Abdi said, adding, “Many more are still waiting to get the healthcare they need.”

Director-General of Sana’a International Airport, Khalid al-Shaif said two flights that have taken place were not part of a medical air bridge but were cherry-picked cases that flew out on the UN special envoy’s own plane. “In fact, there is no air bridge in the country as the United Nations and coalitions countries claim. Just cases evacuated by the special envoy’s plane. There are no medical aircraft that have taken off or landed at Sana’a airport so far. Patients have also not been scheduled [for flights] by the United Nations,” al-Shaif said.

Every day, the blockade on Sana’a International Airport, imposed by the Saudi-led coalition and supported by the United States, has killed dozens of times as many people as the much-hyped coronavirus. In 2016, the Coalition — which controls all Yemeni airspace — began allowing only UN-chartered planes to take off from the facility. The blockade has prevented thousands of sick Yemenis from leaving the country for medical urgent care and stopped medicine and equipment from getting in. This on top of the fact that the Coalition, supported by the United States, has severely damaged health care systems in Yemen, disrupting people’s ability to treat both chronic and communicable diseases and leaving 19.7 million people in need of basic health care, according to the UN.

 

Broken promises

AbdulKhaliq’s daughter, Rua’a, has cirrhosis of the liver and needs to be evacuated according to her doctor. Along with 6,000 other Yemeni children, Rua’a’s condition cannot be treated in Yemen and her doctor says she needs treatment abroad as soon as possible.”Doctors here don’t have the capabilities to treat her. Her health became worse and worse,” Rua’a’s father told us with frustration as his voice breaks mid-sentence. “We do not know when we’ll get a chance to get onto a UN flight.”

Ten days after the UN first announced the “medical air bridge,” which was supposed to be a rare glimpse of hope in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, flights have not proceeded as planned causing patients and their families to lose their last hope of keeping their loved ones alive. On the first civilian flight, only seven children were evacuated to Jordan to treatment on the special envoy’s plane, a diplomatic aircraft with no medical equipment available inside. Only 25 of the tens of thousands of critically ill Yemenis that need medical treatment abroad have reached Jordan as of Friday, February 8.

Yemen UN air bridge feature photo

Dozens of patients board a small diplomatic United Nations plane at Sana’a International airport in Yemen, Feb. 3, 2020. Hani Mohammed | AP

According to the Medical Committee which coordinates with the UN to evacuate the most urgent cases, the flights were scheduled to start on the third of February for 30 patients along with their loved ones as agreed, but recent changes have distributed this number across four trips.

“The first fight was scheduled to start on the third of February, for 30 patients with their companions as agreed, but the changes distributed this number on four trips,” the Ministry of Public Health in Sana’a said in a statement. “This to contrary to the requirements for medical evacuations and the Ministry was surprised by the World Health Organization speech that included changes in medical bridge arrangements and patient transfer mechanisms.”

 

Too little, too late

At the sprawling Khozeimah Cemetery in Sana’a, a 10-years old read Quran on his young mother’s grave and then places fresh flowers on the dull, gray stone. His mother had kidney failure and needed a kidney transplant abroad. On Wednesday, she died, just one week after the second UN flight to Jordan. For two years, she had been waiting for a UN flight.

The UN’s air bridge led to growing disappointment among Yemeni patients. Many Yemeni described it as little more than a public relations move aimed at improving Saudi Arabia’s image in the world. If it proceeds at its current rate, transferring 28 patients a month, it would take 15 years to evacuate all 32,000 patients currently in urgent need of medical treatment abroad.

According to a health official in Sana’a, at least 250 patients have died since February 3, when the first air bridge flight took place. Moreover, the number of patients who need to evacuate abroad has rapidly increased, meaning the gesture is little more than that, and cannot hope to address the deteriorating health situation in the country, according to Yemen’s medical officials.

Frustrated patients, activists and doctors describe the air bridge, accompanied by all of its media hype, as a big lie that has no purpose other than to exacerbate the suffering of patients who travel from far-flung districts and die waiting for a chance to board one of the UN flights.

Since 2015, when the war began, more than 220,000 medical patients had been prevented from traveling abroad for treatment due to Saudi Arabia’s closure of the Sana’a airport. Now, at least 300,000 are suffering from conditions that cannot be treated inside the war-battered Arab country, and need to evacuate abroad to save-life try.

Feature photo | A Yemeni man holds his passport as he waits in the departure lounge at Sana’a International airport, Yemen, Feb. 3, 2020, for a United Nations medical relief flight carrying patients from Yemen to Jordan. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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World Logic Day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/01/2020 - 7:53pm in

Today is World Logic Day. Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it was first celebrated in 2019.

Held annually on January 14th, World Logic Day was established to “bring the intellectual history, conceptual significance and practical implications of logic to the attention of interdisciplinary science communities and the broader public.” The celebration

aims at fostering international cooperation, promoting the development of logic, in both research and teaching, supporting the activities of associations, universities and other institutions involved with logic, and enhancing public understanding of logic and its implications for science, technology and innovation. 

According to Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, the date of of January 14th was selected

in honour of two great logicians of the twentieth century: Kurt Gödel and Alfred Tarski. Gödel, who died on 14 January 1978, established the incompleteness theorem, which transformed the study of logic in the twentieth century. Tarski, who was born on 14 January 1901, developed theories which interacted with those of Gödel.

There’s some more information about the day here.

For World Logic Day I’ve gathered some logic-related posts from over the past few years at Daily Nous, starting with this:


Portraits of Logicians by Matt Leadbetter

These drawings of logicians, initially posted about here, are by Matt Leadbetter. They were commissioned by the Open Logic Project, the home of a collaborative, open source, “remixable” logic text. Speaking of logic texts, you may want to check out Jonathan Weisberg’s Odds & Ends  and David Manley’s Reason Better.

Many laypersons think of logic as a tool, and don’t realize it is an object of research and development, so it might be worth sharing, on World Logic Day, “The Enduring Evolution of Logic,” a guest post by Thomas Ferguson and Graham Priest. Some of logic’s development is illustrated in Joel Friedman’s “Mathematical Logic and Foundations, 1847-1947”:


Joel Friedman, “Mathematical Logic and Foundations, 1847-1947”

See this post for information about the chart and a link to clearer image of it.

Philosophy professors hope to improve their students’ logical thinking skills, discuss what to teach in introductory logic courses, and develop and test new ways of teaching students to assess arguments and reason well. Some show funny videos to illustrate errors in reasoning.

Outside the classroom, there are several resources that those who are eager to learn logic can avail themselves of, including Carnap, a free open-source multi-purpose multi-system logic program written by Graham Leach-Krouse, a site of randomly generated and self-correcting logic exercises developed by Ariel Roffé, and a smartphone game for gaining logical fluency called Andor, created by Matthias Jenny.

UNESCO says that logic can contribute to “a culture of peace, dialogue and mutual understanding, based on the advancement of education and science.” I’d only add that it can also help you impress your friends next time a logic problem goes viral.

Feel free to share your World Logic Day thoughts and plans.

The post World Logic Day appeared first on Daily Nous.

Failure of Hague’s and Jolie’s Scheme to Combat Use of Rape in War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/01/2020 - 2:43am in

It’s not just the people of Britain that the Tories are failing. Last Friday’s I carried a piece by Hugo Gye, ‘Hague and Jolie’s sexual violence scheme ‘let down survivors’, about the failure of an international initiative by Willliam Hague and Angelina Jolie to raise awareness of and fight the use of rape as a weapon of war. This was well-funded right up to the moment Hague stopped being responsible for it. As soon as that happened, its budget was drastically cut, and the scheme may have ended up doing more harm than good. The article ran

A UK Government effort to curb the use of rape as a weapon of war did not succeed and may even have harmed victims, a report suggests.

The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) was launched in 2012 by the then foreign secretary, William Hague, and the actress Angelina Jolie in her role as a United Nations special envoy.

Its aim was to “raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence against women, men, girls and boys in situations of armed conflict and rally global actions to end it”. But as soon as the Conservative politician left office a few months later, work on the scheme was drastically scaled back.

A report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact says that withdrawing support for victims of violence may have left them worse off than if it had never been offered. The PSVI’s budget fell from £15m to just £2m with only four full-time civil servants working on it.

The aid watchdog concluded that the project had helped to make Britain a “leading voice in the international effort to address conflict-related sexual violence” but fell short of the ambitions originally set for it.

It said: “The initiative lacks a clear strategy and overall vision to guide its activities, and the lack of a shared understanding of the problem has inhibited cross-departmental collaboration on addressing conflict-related sexual violence.

“There is little monitoring and reporting on how outputs translate into lasting outcomes, making it difficult to access [its] effectiveness.”

Last night, the Foreign Office said that the report failed to “fully recognise the impact of the UK’s leadership on PSVI, which has mobilised the international community and brought real change for survivors.”

I’d like to believe that Hague was sincere about this scheme when he set it up, but it does look very much like a typical Tory plan: inaugurated with great hoo-hah and fanfare, but lacking substance and immediately cut the moment it loses the public’s attention. Like Boris Johnson’s plan to build forty more hospitals, most of whom have no more than seed funding to sort out legal problems.

And I’m not sure how successful a scheme to suppress sexual violence in war is going to be when some of the worst offenders are the Tories’ Fascist friends. Rape was used by Thatcher’s friend, General Pinochet to torture his regime’s political prisoners. The building used for it within the concentration camp in which they were interned was nicknamed ‘the discotheque’ because of the thugs’ use of disco music when they raped their victims.

No matter how well Hague or Jolie meant, that policy was definitely going to be scrapped if it got in the way of good relations with their real Fascist mates.

Right, Guido Fawkes?

‘I’ Review of Art Exhibition on Ecological Crisis and Some Solutions

Also of interest in yesterday’s I was a review by Sarah Kent of the exhibition, Eco-Visionaries, at the Royal Society in London. This was about the current ecological crisis, and showcased some possible solutions to the problem, some of them developed by architects. This included a moving desert city, the Green Machine, which also planted a watered crops as it moved. The article ran

Melancholy humming welcomes you to the exhibition, with a globe suspended in the cloudy waters of a polluted fish tank. This simple installation by the artist duo HeHe neatly pinpoints our predicament: our planet is suffocating.

“The absence of a future has already begun,” declare Ana Vaz and Tristan Bera in a film, Reclaimed (2015). We know this already – according to the UN, we need to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050 if we are to prevent the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem. So what are we waiting for?

Vaz and Bera highlight the problem. The situation requires a wholesale change in attitude: minor tinkering can’t solve it. We need “reciprocity with nature rather than domination… We are nature.” We are mesmerised by events such as the Arctic on fire, Greenland’s ice-cap melting and Venice drowning. But the scale of the problem is so enormous that we can only watch, “fascinated by the acceleration” of the crisis.

The collective Rimini Protokoli encourages us to confront our imminent extinction. On film we see a tank full of languidly floating jellyfish. They flourish in the warming seas and, with diminishing fish stocks, there’s less competition for the plankton they feed on, so their numbers are increasing dramatically. Humans are similarly multiplying – by 2050, according to the UN, there will be 9.7 billion of us – but unlike jellyfish, we require too much energy to adapt to climate change so, like the dinosaurs, our days are numbered. At the end of the presentation they invite us to go with the words: “Your time is up; you will have to leave.”

The Royal Academy is to be congratulated for hosting an exhibition that tackles this urgent issue, but the show exemplifies the problem. The warnings are persuasive, but the solutions envisaged are pitifully inadequate, mainly by architects who don’t address the catastrophe but instead offer us post-apocalyptic follies. The Green Machine (2014) is Studio Malka’s answer to desertification. Resembling a giant oil rig, this monstrosity trundles across the Sahara on caterpillar treads that plough the ground then sow and water the seeds to produce 20 million tons of food per year. Solar towers, wind turbines and water-capturing balloons create a “self-sufficient urban oasis” for those inside. What percentage of the 9.7 billion will they accommodate, I wonder?

Studio Malka’s Green Machine mobile desert city.

It’s a grim subject, and clearly the ecological crisis requires drastic action across the entire globe and very soon. But I am fascinated by the Green Machine. It reminds me of the giant moving cities that cross the devastated future Earth in the SF film Mortal  Engines. As for how many people such a machine could house, the answer is: very few. Douglas Murray’s book Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture predicts that if we carry on as we are, we will end up with a future in which the rich will inhabit closed, protected environments like the various biodomes that were created in the 1990s, while the rest of humanity will be left to fend for itself in the decaying world outside.

It’s a bleak, dystopian prediction, but one I fear will come true if we carry on electing leaders like Trump and Johnson.

Tories Pushing Children into Poverty and Stripping Them of Their Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/01/2020 - 1:03am in

Yesterday Mike commented on a piece in the Independent, which reported that, thanks to the Tories, Britain had been declared ‘inadequate’ in its protection of children’s right. Britain has now fallen from 11th to 156th place in the global rankings for children’s rights. It’s now in the bottom lowest ten performers after getting the lowest possible score in all six indicators in the Children’s Rights Environment, according to KidsRights Index 2017.

There are serious concerns about structural discrimination in the UK, particularly against Muslims following recent anti-terrorism measure, and against Gypsy and immigrant children.

I’ve already put up some stats on how the Tories’ vile austerity policy has pushed more families and children into ‘food poverty’ – meaning hunger, potential malnutrition and starvation. But the book also worries about the social impact hunger has on people. Families can no longer afford to families and friends around to share a meal, and this is raising concerns that this will also increase the social isolation of the families affected.

Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton write in their chapter on food poverty in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity

However, evidence from the PSE UK suggests that 11 per cent of households could not afford to have friends or family around for a meal or drink at least once a month in 2012 compared to 6 per cent in 1999. Furthermore, the proportion who could not afford to have a friend’s child around for tea or snack once a fortnight doubled between 1999 and 2012, from 4 per cent to 8 per cent, representing 1,000,000 children. ~Given that social relationships between children and their peers are an integral aspect of their development and well-being, the consequences are likely to be highly damaging and include increasing social exclusion and societal fragmentation. (p.97)

If ethnic minority families are particularly affected, then this will increase their exclusion and alienation from mainstream society, and could lead to some becoming dangerously radicalised. And their could be a similar effect among poor Whites, who may believe that Black and Asian families are being far better treated because of their colour through positive discrimination policies. Increasing poverty and the removal of anti-discrimination legislation and safeguards is a recipe for increasing racial tension.

Joanna Mack in her chapter on maltreatment and child mortality in the above book also gives the stats on how Britain compares with some of the other European countries: it’s abysmal. She writes

The consequences of such reductions in income is that the UK, which has long had a poor record on child poverty compared to many other nations with similar levels of economic development, has slipped further behind. Eurostat, which gathers comprehensive data from across Europe, reports that in 2014 over 22 per cent of children in the UK lived in deprived households, taken as being unable to afford three or more of a range of household items, compared to 14 per cent in France, around 12 per cent in Germany and a mere 4 per cent in Norway and Sweden. In 2007, before the austerity years, the UK’s rate was 15 per cent well below the EU average – now it is above. (p.87).

She also reports that the increase in child poverty in the UK was of such concern to the UN that it called for the reintroduction of the targets for the reduction of child poverty, which the government had repealed in 2016, and for ‘the provision ‘for clear and accountable mechanisms for the eradication of child poverty’ and the revision of recent benefit reforms.’ (p. 85).

Mike was so angry about this catastrophic reduction in Britain’s status for respecting children’s rights that he urged his readers to tell people who voted Tory about it, and that thanks to their vote, Britain will continue to fail future generations. He also urged them to ask the following questions

And tell them that discrimination against children on racial or religious grounds has been incorporated into the structure of UK society under the Conservatives.

Ask them whether they consider themselves to be racists and, if not, why they support a racist administration.

And if they say they don’t, remind them that prime minister Boris Johnson is a known racist.

Point them to the anti-Semitism in his novel if they want proof beyond his Islamophobic comments and other recent outbursts.

UK plummets from 11th to 156th in global children’s rights rankings. The Tories are responsible

Britain is becoming more racist, and its children poorer, thanks to the Tories. And it’s all so that the 1 per cent, including Bozo, Rees-Mogg and the rest of them, can get richer.

Tories’ and UKIP’s Nazi Anti-Immigration Imagery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/12/2019 - 11:18pm in

Remember how UKIP and its head honcho, Nigel Farage, got into trouble a few years ago for their anti-immigration poster? This showed a long line of middle eastern immigrants stretching across the landscape trying to get into Europe and Britain. It was based on the Syrian and North African refugees that had made their way to the West up through the Balkans, a million of whom had been promised asylum by German chancellor Angela Merkel. It was another piece of Farage’s anti-immigration propaganda. The argument runs that unless we get out of Europe, EU law will force us to take in more extra-European immigrants. And particularly Muslims, who are now the specific object of right-wing suspicion and hatred.

As Mike’s shown, the argument’s nonsense. Britain’s not part of the Schengen immigration area, and so doesn’t have to take in immigrants from outside Europe, who have sought refuge in one of these countries. The laws demanding Britain take in asylum seekers are UN treaties governing the rights of refugees, which obviously have nothing to do with the EU and will still be in place when we leave.

But Farage also got into serious trouble with the post because it was almost exactly like one put up by the Nazis protesting against Jewish refugees from eastern Europe trying to enter Germany. And there are more recent images from British neo-Nazi rags which also express the same type of bitter anti-immigrant sentiments.

I found this piccie of the cover of the British Nazi rag, The White Dragon, in Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s book on modern Nazi paganism, Black Sun. It seems to be of Hindu worshippers in the Ganges, but has been taken out of context and captioned ‘Welcome to Dover’. It’s from 1999, but could have come from any time up to the present.

Farage’s poster caused a storm of controversy, but the recent Tory victory and their promises of getting Brexit done have emboldened the islamophobes and racists. So can we expect more anti-immigration posters like UKIP’s? And will the Scum, the Depress or the Heil put a photo like this on their front pages when they issue another rant about non-White immigration?

The Rise in Child Poverty Predicted for 2020

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/12/2019 - 4:28am in

Vickie Cooper’s and David whyte’s book, The Violence of Austerity has a chapter on ‘Child Maltreatment and Child Mortality’ by Joanna Mack. It’s a deeply troubling subject which in itself should be an indictment of the Tories and their wretched austerity. Mack uses the horrific incidence of infant mortality in Britain to show how the Tories justify it as somehow inevitable, and that therefore it should therefore be considered an act of political violence, albeit carefully hidden. She writes

The UK infant (0 to 1 years) mortality rate, at around four deaths per 1000 births in 2014, is higher than all but two of the nineteen Euro area member states. About half of these deaths are linked to short gestation and low birth weight, both of which are highly associated with deprivation. The result is that babies born into poorer families in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to die than children from richer families.

Allowing a pregnant woman to go without food in a cold, unheated home is to compromise her baby’s life chances. The World Health Organisation defines ‘child maltreatment’ as an action that in the context of a relationship of power results in ‘actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity.’ If an individual takes such action then they may be liable to prosecution. Yet if a political system results in such actions, it is seen as an inevitable, if unfortunate, by product of economic necessity. This is not overt violence but cover violence. (p. 89).

She then goes on to describe just how hollow Tweezer’s promises to end austerity and improve people’s life expenctancy in the UK actually are.

On becoming Prime Minister in July 2016, Theresa May tried to set a new tone, making bold promises about ‘a country that works for everyone’ and fighting the ‘burning injustice’ of those born poor dying earlier than others. Yet for all the talk of an end to austerity, all of the planned benefit cuts will go ahead. Largely as a direct result of these planned cuts, over half a million more children are set to fall below the 2010/11 poverty line in 2020/21 than did in 2015/16 while the percentage of children in relative income poverty is predicted to rise from 18 per cent in 2015/16 to 26 per cent in 2020/21. And these projections could prove optimistic given the economic uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the threats to turn the UK into a low tax haven with its inevitable consequence of a further rolling back of the welfare state. There are warnings of sharp falls to come to the real-terms incomes of the poorest, particularly those with children. (p.91)

She concludes

This makes a mockery of promises to fight the injustice of poverty. To do this, there would need to be a real commitment to the transfer of income and wealth from the rich to the poor. And that would challenge the very basis of the neoliberal ideology still underpinning the government – an ideology that embeds within it the violence of child poverty.

Well, Tweezer’s gone and been replaced by Boris, who will carry on the government’s neoliberal programme. If anything, he’ll ratchet it up.

And more children will fall into poverty and die in their first year.

Remember how Tweezer swanked onto the stage at the Tory conference to the tune of ‘Killer Queen’? From this perhaps a better track for her and all the other Tories should be Alice Cooper’s ‘Dead Babies’.

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