A deluge on the Yellow River 4,000 years ago led to a feat of Bronze Age hydro-engineering.
Ars Technica, By Annalee Newitz, August 5
Ancient Chinese legends tell of a catastrophic flood along the Yellow River that led to the founding of the Xia dynasty, roughly 4,000 years ago. A legendary hero named Yu is said to have established the Xia dynasty after figuring out how to stop the flood waters by dredging, thus marking the dawn of Chinese civilization with a feat of landscape engineering. Now, a group of geoscientists and archaeologists in China has discovered that this flood actually happened.
The group’s recently published findings in Science magazine explain how they found traces of this historic deluge. For more than a century, archaeologists have looked for evidence that could shed light on historical accounts of early Chinese civilization, such as those in first century BCE book Shiji (史記, traditionally translated as Records of the Grand Historian). Many accounts in the Shiji have turned out to be fairly accurate, especially when it came to the Shang dynasty that followed the Xia. Because the Shang dynasty civilization had writing, scientists have been able to verify the Shiji’s accuracy from written records as well as material remains.
And Its Problems as a Counterterrorism Strategy
Foreign Affairs, By Fait Muedini, November 3
With the Syrian civil war in its fourth year—and now with Russia’s direct intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—Washington is more keen than ever to push back the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS). And at least when it comes to that mission, the Assad government is looking to join in. Just over a year ago, Assad government spokesperson Mohamed Jihad al-Laham reached out to the U.S. Congress to ask for support in the fight against ISIS and to criticize the rebel forces that the United States supports as being just as radical as the larger group. In his letter, Laham also suggested promoting Sufism—a mystical branch of Islam—as a mechanism to alter the violent behavior of terrorist actors.
The inclusion of Sufism in Laham’s plea for military support might seem out of place. But since 9/11, such sentiments have become routine as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries have come up against hard-line Islamist groups. In most cases, the West has opted for a multipronged response, which usually includes increased counterterrorism surveillance, military intervention, and the sponsorship of “friendly” and “tolerant” interpretations of Islam both domestically and abroad. The logic is that messages of tolerance could thwart would-be jihadists from becoming indoctrinated by less tolerant religious strands.
In fact, the sponsoring of Sufism is a popular choice around the world, including in Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, and Russia. In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has invested resources in promoting Sufi education; the state has promoted Sufi leaders’ activities and also allows Sufi groups to disperse information and literature in the country. King Mohammed VI of Morocco continues to call upon Sufi symbolism in his speeches and has attempted to control and reshape religious education in the country by promoting a Sufi agenda. In Pakistan, political leaders often go to Sufi shrines in order to show the public their closeness to Sufi orders. Furthermore, they court Sufi leaders for political support. And in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has also promoted Sufism in Chechnya through the installation of Ramzan Kadyrov as head of the republic. A strong ally to the Kremlin, Kadyrov is a member of the Qadiriyya Sufi order and frequently uses Sufism to counter Islamists in the region. All this provides Putin with greater control over the region and the state with an opportunity to support a brand of Islam that challenges more literal interpretations of the faith.
Top executives were warned of possible catastrophe from greenhouse effect, then led efforts to block solutions.
Inside Climate News, By Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song & David Hasemyer, September 16
At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.
It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.
A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.
New York Times, By Sindya H. Bhanoo, July 27
Farming may have originated 23,000 years ago, thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study.
Researchers discovered a large number of seeds at an ancient hunter-gatherer site known as Ohalo II on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Many of the seeds had scars, a mark that distinguishes domesticated species from wild forms.
Additionally, about 150,000 plant remains were retrieved from the site, comprising more than 140 species. The mix included 13 known weeds, as well as edible cereals like wild emmer, barley and oats.
The New Yorker, By Maria Konnikova, June 12
On the morning of August 17, 1971, nine young men in the Palo Alto area received visits from local police officers. While their neighbors looked on, the men were arrested for violating Penal Codes 211 and 459 (armed robbery and burglary), searched, handcuffed, and led into the rear of a waiting police car. The cars took them to a Palo Alto police station, where the men were booked, fingerprinted, moved to a holding cell, and blindfolded. Finally, they were transported to the Stanford County Prison—also known as the Stanford University psychology department.
They were willing participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment, one of the most controversial studies in the history of social psychology. (It’s the subject of a new film of the same name—a drama, not a documentary—starring Billy Crudup, of “Almost Famous,” as the lead investigator, Philip Zimbardo.) The study subjects, middle-class college students, had answered a questionnaire about their family backgrounds, physical- and mental-health histories, and social behavior, and had been deemed “normal”; a coin flip divided them into prisoners and guards. According to the lore that’s grown up around the experiment, the guards, with little to no instruction, began humiliating and psychologically abusing the prisoners within twenty-four hours of the study’s start. The prisoners, in turn, became submissive and depersonalized, taking the abuse and saying little in protest. The behavior of all involved was so extreme that the experiment, which was meant to last two weeks, was terminated after six days.
MSNBC, By Amanda Sakuma, June 8
President George W. Bush was wrong to try to build democracy in Iraq, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a recent interview, marking a striking admission from a key player behind the 2003 U.S. invasion.
In an interview with British newspaper The Times, Rumsfeld said that efforts to oust Saddam Hussein and replace his tyrannical regime with democracy were unworkable, and that he had concerns about the plan from the beginning.
“I’m not one who thinks that our particular template of democracy is appropriate for other countries at every moment of their histories,” Rumsfeld told The Times. “The idea that we could fashion a democracy in Iraq seemed to me unrealistic. I was concerned about it when I first heard those words.”
Rumsfeld, who served under Bush from 2001 to 2006, has previously defended the administration’s actions in the run-up to the war, which dragged on for years before formally ending in 2011.
I think I’m going to go cough up some blood, now.
Mother Jones: Donald Rumsfeld Apparently Forgot the Times He Said the Iraq War Was Good for Democracy
Truth commission delivers verdict on church-run residential institutions – Schools were one of Canadian history’s ‘darkest and most troubling chapters’
The Guardian, By John Barber, June 2
Canadian governments and churches pursued a policy of “cultural genocide” against the country’s aboriginal people throughout the 20th century, according to an investigation into a long-suppressed history that saw 150,000 Native, or First Nations, children forcibly removed from their families and incarcerated in residential schools rife with abuse.
After seven years of hearings, and testimony from thousands of witnesses, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on Tuesday for a new era of forgiveness and understanding even as it exposed the cultural and personal devastation inflicted by the residential schools policy in excruciating detail.
“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will,” the commission’s final report declares.
“The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”
388-page Commission Report Executive Summary:Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future
Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Findings
The Toronto Star: Canada’s residential schools cultural genocide, Truth and Reconciliation commission says
New York Times: Canada’s Forced Schooling of Aboriginal Children Was ‘Cultural Genocide,’ Report Finds
Al Jazeera: Canada accused of ‘cultural genocide’
BBC: The schools that had cemeteries instead of playgrounds, By Sian Griffiths BBC News, Ottawa, June 13
Thus far, the government has agreed to just one. However, in a sure sign that an election is looming, opposition parties agreed, if elected, to implement all the recommendations.
One of those key demands is that this shameful chapter of Canadian history be taught as a mandatory subject in all Canadian schools. No doubt one key date students will never forget will be the day Judge Sinclair made Canadians face up to their past.
Canada commission issues details abuse of native children
Canada’s native people get a formal apology
RCMP ‘herded’ native kids to residential schools
Canada reopens its “most disgraceful” act
Well! It’s not just the Catholic Church…
Wikileaks, By Julian Assange, May 27
Today WikiLeaks has released more than half a million US State Department cables from 1978. The cables cover US interactions with, and observations of, every country.
1978 was an unusually important year in geopolitics. The year saw the start of a great many political conflicts and alliances which continue to define the present world order, as well as the rise of still-important personalities and political dynasties.
The cables document the start of the Iranian Revolution, leading to the stand-off between Iran and the West (1979 – present); the Second Oil Crisis; the Afghan conflict (1978 – present); the Lebanon–Israel conflict (1978 – present); the Camp David Accords; the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua and the subsequent conflict with US proxies (1978 – 1990); the 1978 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia; the Ethopian invasion of Eritrea; Carter’s critical decision on the neutron bomb; the break-up of the USSR’s nuclear-powered satellite over Canada, which changed space policy; the US “playing the China card” against Russia; Brzezinski’s visit to China, which led to the subsequent normalisation of relations and a proxy war in Cambodia; with the US, UK, China and Cambodia on one side and Vietnam and the USSR on the other.
New Historian, By Irina Slav, May 24
It’s common knowledge that the first systematic use of written symbols as a means of communication emerged in Sumer around 3,000 BCE, but now a Canadian researcher is suggesting that as far back as 40,000 years ago our ancestors communicated in writing. Genevieve von Petzinger, an anthropologist from the University of Victoria, studied hundreds of markings from 300 sites in addition to personally visiting and examining 52 caves where ancient humans had lived located in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France. She then collected these markings in a database and looked for repeated use of the same symbol as well as for patterns of use for the different symbols.
What she discovered was surprising: there were just 30 symbols that were used repeatedly at these hundreds of sites, and this took place over a period as long as 30,000 years. These repeated uses, however, were not evident in all the caves throughout this period. Commenting on the find, another anthropologist, April Nowell, who teaches at the University of Victoria, told CBC that each of the symbols classified by von Petzinger seems to have gone through its very own “heyday” in one of the regions studied before its use declined. What’s more, Nowell noted, the symbols first started being used in one area, for instance in Spain, and then spread to another, such as France.
CBC: Did early humans communicate with cave signs?
The Globe and Mail: Cave symbols hint at 30,000-year-old origins of written communication , February 23, 2010
New York Times, By Marlise Simons, May 1
Paris — William Pfaff, an international affairs columnist and author who was a prominent critic of American foreign policy, finding Washington’s intervention in world affairs often misguided, died on Thursday in a hospital here. He was 86.
His wife, Carolyn Pfaff, said the cause was a heart attack after a fall.
Mr. Pfaff, who moved to Paris in 1971, wrote a syndicated column that appeared for more than 25 years in The International Herald Tribune, now The International New York Times. He was a longtime contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and other publications, the articles informed by his deep knowledge of history and philosophy.
Mr. Pfaff (pronounced FAFF) also wrote eight books, which further examined American statecraft as well as 20th-century Europe’s penchant for authoritarian utopianism. In “The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia,” published in 2004, he examined what drove European intellectuals to embrace communism, fascism and Nazism.
“What has occurred since 1945,” he wrote in its introduction, “has amounted to an American effort to control the consequences of the 20th-century crisis in Europe and the breakdown of imperial order in Asia, the Near and Middle East, and latterly in Africa while maintaining that supervisory role over the Americas first claimed by the United States in 1823” with the Monroe Doctrine.