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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dark Epoch Followed the Big Bang

June 14, 2010

A New Look at the Universe: Dark Epoch Followed the Big Bang

4080490080_324a7159baUSC College’s Elena Pierpaoli and 200 other physicists are trying to find out what went on during the dark epoch after the Big Bang for the next 380,000 years as photons and particles clung to each other in a high-energy dance that kept any light from escaping. They are using the Planck mission launched last year by the European Space Agency— the most advanced space-based telescope designed to study the early universe by mapping the weak background radiation pervading the universe with far greater accuracy than two previous missions.
“The [cosmic background radiation] is a gold mine to test various theories regarding the early universe,” Pierpaoli said. “It’s a section of the history of the cosmos that we don’t know much about and it’s incredibly important.”

Planck also could become the first telescope to prove the existence of gravity waves: ripples in space-time caused by the extreme phenomena of the birthing universe. If they exist, gravity waves would have left a unique signature on the cosmic background radiation (CMB).
The discovery of gravity waves would lift the darkness and help cosmologists — physicists who study the origins of the cosmos — to decide between several theories of the early universe.
While the discovery of gravitational waves may not occur even with Planck, there is no doubt about the probe’s main capability: mapping the cosmic background radiation with unparalleled accuracy.
The radiation was the first light released after the decoupling of photons and particles. So while it is not as old as gravity waves, it can still provide new information about the cosmos. And it may carry the imprint of a very fast expansion, known as inflation, theorized to have occurred a millionth of a second after the Big Bang.
Pierpaoli hopes to use the data to sharpen estimates of some fundamental numbers: the total mass of the universe; the amount of mysterious “dark energy” driving the expansion of the universe; the speed of expansion; and several numbers relating to inflation.
Planck should improve the accuracy of existing estimates by three to four times, Pierpaoli said. That in turn could be used to confirm or rule out competing theories of the universe.
Finally, Planck is expected to provide valuable data on galaxy clusters, the largest objects bound by gravity in the known universe.
“There’s much more science contained in the Planck measurements than just the CMB data. By observing the entire sky at nine different frequencies, ranging from the radio to the infrared, we’ll be able to learn more about distant galaxies, other galaxy clusters and our own galaxy,” Pierpaoli said while the Planck mission was in the planning stage.
Galaxy clusters are supposed to be spread over the cosmos more or less randomly. If unexpected variations were to turn up, they might indicate that something was not quite random during inflation — the way an unusual scatter pattern from shotgun pellets might indicate a burr in the barrel.
Pierpaoli and graduate student Thad Szabo are about to publish the newest and biggest survey of galaxy clusters as seen in the visible light in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, containing 72,000 objects — five times more than previously surveyed.
New data expected from Planck will further improve scientists’ understanding of clusters, along with the other phenomena related to the birth of the universe. 
Jason McManus via the University of Southern California 

Saturn's Rings: Giant Structures

June 14, 2010

Saturn's Rings: Giant Structures 4 Kilometers High & 3-Dimensional Waves

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0120a5935d29970b-500wiSaturn's rings have been studied for the last six years by a school bus–sized spacecraft named Cassini that has been sending back astonishing pictures of the rings and the moons that help shape them. 
In August 2009, the rings were thrown into high relief, literally, during Saturn's vernal equinox. As the sun crossed into the northern hemisphere, its rays shone parallel to the rings for about four days—an alignment that happens once every 15 years or so. And as the rings themselves slipped into shadow, previously unseen features revealed themselves.
The equinox enabled Cassini to capture sharp relief images of the incredible rings around Saturn with the Sun shining sideway-on (when you're in space you're really at the mercy of natural lighting).  The results were amazing: rings thought to be ten meters thick, with variations of two stories at most, turned out to have vertical jumps the size of the Rocky mountains. The thing about space is you can hide things that big in it.  The results captured during the week of perfect plane illumination will be studied for years to come, and the great thing about the internet age is that they aren't just for the professionals - they stitched together a truly mind-boggling high resolution image just for us online-types to goggle at.
"It's like standing outside right before the sun sets. Your shadow gets very long. Anything that's a little bit bigger, or sticks up, casts a shadow,"  said JPL's Linda Spilker, Cassini's project scientist. The shadows revealed curtains of ice particles up to four kilometers tall, created by Daphnis, one of Saturn's moons. Daphnis orbits at a slight tilt with respect to the rings, and when it crosses the ring plane, it drags some of the ring material after itself.
Vertical-structures-in-ringsSaturn's rings have weird wakes and waves of all sorts, sculpted by the gravity of passing moons. The equinox gave us a closer look at waves discovered by JPL's Voyager mission, including spiral density waves created by orbital resonances and compressional waves created from the repeated gravitational tugs analogous to the spiral arms of our own Milky Way. "They're much more tightly wound than the spiral structures that you see in galaxies, but they are in fact the same creatures. The physics behind them is the same, " according to the Space Science Institute's Carolyn Porco, head of the Cassini imaging team. If the resonant moon's orbit is slightly askew, three-dimensional bending waves—also spirals—form as well. The density waves and the bending waves propagate in opposite directions, says Spilker, adding a further level of complexity to the rings' structure.
The equinox images also revealed a new kind of three-dimensional wave, only about 100 meters tall. "From high above, the rippled surface of Saturn's D ring looks like a corrugated roof," says Spilker. "The ripple extends for more than 17,000 kilometers across the ring system. When the Voyagers flew by, it wasn't there." Scientists remain baffled about the ripple's origin, but one possible scenario has a meteoroid slamming into the rings.
Casey Kazan
Source: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/whycassini/cassini-20090921.html

"BIG BANG" Collapses

June 15, 2010

Is the Universe Stranger Than We Know? What if Dark Energy Does Not Exist?

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0133efafb5b1970b-500wiUtane Sawangwit and Tom Shanks of Durham University believe that errors on the “gold standard” cosmic microwave background results from the WMAP satellite that includes dark matter, dark energy and the exponential expansion after the big bang known as inflation may be larger than previously supposed. 
It is the pattern of ripples detected by microwave background telescopes such as WMAP that underpin the idea that the Universe is composed of 22% dark exotic particles and 74% dark energy with the remaining 4% being the atoms in the ordinary material that we see around us. 
This model produces a largest ripple size of about 1 degree on the microwave sky and this is well matched by the ripples seen in the WMAP data. So these WMAP ripples have a size that is roughly twice the size of the Full Moon as they appear on the sky. Models that don’t have dark energy or dark matter tend to produce CMB ripples that are smaller, only about half the standard model size and so just about the size of the Full Moon.   
Mg20627650.201-1_300Sawangwit and Shanks have used point-like radio sources to test how much the WMAP telescope smoothes these CMB ripples and have found evidence that this ”beam smoothing” is much larger than suggested from WMAP’s observations of the planet Jupiter. 
The radio sources have the advantage that they are much closer in brightness to the CMB ripples that are being studied than Jupiter which is ~1000 times brighter. But their faintness is also a disadvantage which means that the Durham team have had to stack hundreds of the radio sources to get their result. 
If the WMAP CMB map is smoothed by as much as the radio sources appear to be then it may  make it more easy for other models without dark matter (or dark energy!) to fit the CMB data. It will then be interesting to see if the new European PLANCK satellite, currently taking data, will confirm the WMAP results. The PLANCK telescope will also smooth the new CMB maps and again the radio source technique used by Sawangwit and Shanks can be used to help them judge how much. 
The same Durham team were also involved with international collaborators in another recent paper which suggested that an independent CMB check on the existence of dark energy might not be as “bullet-proof “ as previously thought. 
If dark energy exists it causes the expansion of the Universe to accelerate at late times. CMB photons have to pass through giant superclusters of galaxies on their way to be detected by telescopes such as WMAP. Normally a CMB photon gets gravitationally blueshifted as it enters a cluster and redshifted as it leaves and the two effects cancel. 
But if the cluster galaxies accelerate away from each other as the photon passes through then the cancellation is not exact and a trace is left in that slightly higher CMB temperatures should be observed in sightlines that pass near to galaxy superclusters. 
Previously claims have been made that this “ISW “ signal is seen at high significance when CMB-galaxy correlations are studied. But in a powerful new sample of ~1 million luminous red galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey no such effect is seen and when this result is included, the significances of the previous detections reduce to the point where they are as consistent with a zero detection of dark energy as with the standard model prediction. 
If the same null result is seen in the Southern Hemisphere using WMAP and PLANCK CMB data coupled with millions of galaxies to be found in new Southern Surveys such as the ESO  VST ATLAS (PI T. Shanks) then again there will be a significant threat to the standard cosmological model in which dark energy plays a vital role.
The odds are still that the standard model with its dark energy and dark matter will survive but there are certainly many theorists who might hope that it does not! The identification of dark matter with exotic particles as yet undetected in the laboratory and the introduction of dark vacuum energy in an amount that is minute compared to the total energy of the Universe at early-times leaves many cosmologists feeling unsure. 
The dark energy problem is particularly severe – most theorists would prefer a zero cosmological constant because it might be hoped that it could be explained by some as yet unknown symmetry of nature. Indeed, if there had to be a cosmological constant then the string theorists of particle physics would actually prefer that it was negative which is the opposite to what is apparently observed in the supernova Hubble diagram. These problems frequently cause theorists to resort to the “anthropic principle” for an explanation. 
The standard model also has astrophysical difficulties. For example, in galaxy formation theories, as much “feedback” energy is now being used in preventing stars from forming as in forming them under gravity, seemingly at odds with the simplest “bottom-up” picture of galaxy formation.  
Even the evidence for dark matter is less strong than it was in the 1930’s when Fritz Zwicky first discovered the “missing mass” problem in the centres of rich galaxy clusters. The confirmation from X-ray satellites like Chandra and XMM-Newton that these galaxy clusters contain large amounts of hot gas as well as galaxies and stars has reduced the missing mass/dark matter discrepancy by a factor of 10-100! It remains to be seen whether the remaining factor or 4-5 merits the invoking of a cosmological density of exotic particles as required by the standard model.
The undoubted successes of the standard cosmological model therefore have to be balanced against the above problems. Much depends on the results from the “precision” Cosmic Microwave Background experiments. If these are correct then the standard model, with all its difficulties, will likely be correct. This is why tests of the CMB results such as those made by the Durham team and their collaborators are so important for cosmology. 
The effect of the WMAP telescope on the CMB ripples and the search for the signature of dark energy in the CMB-galaxy correlations are crucial for the survival of the standard model. The results at the least give the CMB observational teams a chance to check whether their systematic errors are really well enough established to reject all simpler cosmological models and only accept the standard model with its mysterious dark matter and dark energy components.
The WMAP team, according to New Scientist isn't taking the challenge lighly. They claim that the radio sources observed by WMAP coincide with spots of the sky where the temperature is slightly higher, making the calibration inaccurate. "We're happy to defend WMAP," says team member Gary Hinshaw of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
According to their critics, to explain away theses potentially undermining errors, standard model and WMAP supporters have invented "dark energy" and "great attractors" so as to explain why a created universe did not spread out uniformly at the same speed and in the same spoke-like directions as predicted by theory. 
Predications based on the Big Bang can account for less than 20% of the mass and density of the known, observable Hubble length universe. Nor can this theory explain gravity, the discordant data on red shifts, galaxy distribution, colliding galaxies, the abundance of hydrogen and helium, the existence of elementary particles, and why the movement of distant galaxies appears to be accelerating.
Critics of the standard model say that only the addition of ad hoc hypothetical appendages and parameters which are constantly adjusted have prevented the Big Bang theory from complete collapse.
Casey Kazan via University of Durham


Second independence
Written by Francesca Fiorentin   
Wednesday, 02 June 2010 http://upsidedownworld.org/main/argentina-archives-32/2520-a-second-independence-for-argentina

“We were capable, We are capable.” The slogan has repeated itself on government radio and television adverts throughout Argentina, which is celebrating 200 years since the May 25th revolution that eventually led to the country’s independence on July 9, 1816. The natural question such a slogan begs, “of what exactly?” One assumes its independence from Spain. Yet two centuries later, though nobody’s colony, many are still asking: How independent is Argentina really?

Bicentenary Blues

Despite a flurry of festivities that rang in Argentina’s third century, beyond the exhibitions, concerts, and flag-waving, the bicentenary has also been an opportunity to reflect on the country’s past, present and future. What exactly has the country been capable of and what are the challenges that it faces? This is what many Argentines – particularly intellectuals, academics, and those active in social movements – have been attempting to do: remind us of the issues that get lost in the shuffle and to celebrate with eyes wide open.

I spoke with Argentine historians Hilda Sabato and Elsa Bruzzone to gain insight into the significance of the bicentenary and the state of Argentina today and throughout its 200 years. Both have been actively working to contribute their voices to the bicentenary buzz: Sabato through the website ‘Historiadores y el Bicentenario’ (Historians and the Bicentenary) which hopes to “give a space in which historians can publicly circulate questions that we have been debating in recent years with respect to our history”; and Bruzonne through her contribution on Argentina’s natural resources to the newly-released ‘Pensar la Nación’ (Thinking the Nation), a collection of essays written by a host of academics in order to not only discuss the country’s history but what is “the best Argentina we can have”.
These and a host of other events – like ‘The Other Bicentenary’ encampment in Plaza Congreso on May 24 and 25 sponsored by a host of social movement groups and community radio stations – have sprung up because of what many see as a lack of depth and discussion around the occasion.
“There is a lot of noise but not too much beyond that,” says Sabato, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and principal investigator of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigations, CONICET.
With the famous Avenida 9 de Julio set up like a tourist brochure – each province of the country on display in its own colourful stall – and events like an antique auto show, Sabato reflects, “It’s going to be fun maybe, tomorrow, day after tomorrow…then we’re going to go to the World Cup. I see the tone of the bicentenary on the same level as that or even less so.”
The issues at hand are neither pleasant nor obscure, but those that all nations must address: economic stability, the quality of life of its citizens, social division, land and the use of its natural resources, and political and democratic freedom and participation. And with more than 20 percent of the 40 million citizens living below the poverty line, 60% of families without medical coverage, a public education system in deterioration, and 40 percent of its workers labouring “off the books”, all while battling rising inflation, Argentina has plenty to discuss.
“It’s not the bicentenary that one dreamed in their youth,” says Bruzzone, author of three editions of the book Water Wars. “We dreamed the dreams of the liberators of this continent, like Bolivar and San Martín. One dreamed of arriving at the bicentenary with this dream totally fulfilled, with a county without social inequality, without poverty and exclusion, without misery, of a country with jobs and healthcare and housing and education for everyone.”
Weakened State
In talking with Sabato and Bruzonne, it became clear that understanding Argentina today is impossible without particularly understanding the last 100 years and what both see as the dismantling of the powers of and protections by the state. Major events? The rise and fall of Peronism, the military coup in 1976 and the junta’s stranglehold until 1983, the neo-liberal economic policies of Carlos Menem’s populist government, the devastating crash of 2001, and the rebuilding that has been taking place ever since.
In the first half of the 20th century, particularly after the economic crash of 1929 and 1930 and after WWII, Argentina saw a strengthening of its industry – the state-owned oil enterprise YPF was created and the Central Bank and railways were nationalised, which helped finance the construction of hospitals, schools, and used to combat disease. Workers rights were respected, wages were high, and unionisation skyrocketed.
However the last military dictatorship, many of whose key economists had been trained at the University of Chicago under free-market guru Milton Freidman, not only pushed a policy of political violence but economic as well. The dictatorship dismantled gains made under Perón, as economic minister José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz outlawed strikes, lifted price controls and restrictions on foreign investment and sold off thousands of state enterprises. Prices and poverty rose dramatically and the dictatorship accumulated enormous amounts of debt. As it was losing ground in 1982, the military junta appointed Domingo Cavallo as head of the Central Bank who implemented policies that allowed the country’s top private enterprises to shift billions in debt to the state through secured exchange rates, a process that continued after the dictatorship under Raúl Alfonsín.
“When the government of Isabel Perón was overthrown, the external debt of the country in 1976 was around US$4 billion,” says Bruzzone. “When the dictatorship left, the debt had risen to US$40 billion.”
Though a self-proclaimed Peronist, Carlos Menem who came to power in 1989 gave the position of economic minister to Domingo Cavallo and other top slots to former employees of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). What followed was a series of billon-dollar IMF loans, the selling off of the majority of state enterprises, and the creation of the Argentine peso that was linked to the dollar, all of which resulted in massive layoffs, a freeze on local industry in the face of expensive production costs and cheap imports, and even more debt.
This free-market frenzy ended in the notorious crash of November and December of 2001, in which recession and unemployment caused investors to pull huge sums of money out of the country and get out of town. The De La Rúa government froze bank accounts of millions of Argentines, who, when finally allowed access, were left with a fraction of their savings. Food riots broke out and on December 19 and 20 a mass of Argentines swarmed Plaza de Mayo demanding that all the politicians who had gotten the country into this mess, leave immediately. De La Rúa was helicoptered from the Casa Rosada to escape the angry crowds. It was clear to many that the state had turned against its people.
“The destruction of the state, not just the welfare state but as an agent of change and intervention in society, was gradual,” says Sabato. “The dictatorship and Menem’s government were key to that destruction.”
Two hundred years later
Which brings us to the Argentina of today, a place where you can eat a five-course meal for US$30 in a trendy restaurant while a family sifts through street garbage nearby. “We have had poverty in the last few years as never before,” says Sabato. “The distribution of income has been one of the worst in history, and many people have fallen well below the poverty line.” She calls this income gap “one of the worst aspects of Argentine society today”, which she says should be “unacceptable in a country like this”.
The external debt remains (US$120 billion to be exact) and though former president Néstor Kirchner and current president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had spoken against repaying it, the government since reversed its position and after heated arguments about how to repay the debt earlier this year, Congress voted to do so with reserves from the Central Bank. The question of whether to pay the debt has all but vanished from Congress. This despite a ruling presented by Judge Ballestero in 2000 that found 470 illegitimate financial operations surrounding the debt, calling it “illegal, immoral, illegitimate, and fraudulent”. Congress made no further investigation into the ruling, and according to Bruzzone, “it doesn’t look like they will.”
“This is the debt that every man woman and child of this country pays,” she says, and asserts that there is a much more urgent “internal debt” that must be paid. “The external debt can wait,” Bruzzone claims, “but the internal debt cannot – healthcare, education, and life which is above all else.”
Bruzonne commends the Kirchners for the re-nationalisation of things such as water and pensions, and for leaving behind the neo-liberal economic policies of previous decades, save for one key sector.
“With the issue of natural resources, this government does what all governments have done since 1976…where the process of selling all our natural resources to foreigners has been consolidating and growing.”
She mentions that 20 percent of land in Argentina is in the hands of multinational corporations and/or foreign millionaires, and warns that this is “incredibly dangerous” and would put any country “on the brink of territorial disintegration”.
Bruzonne says that her travels and studies have convinced her that “the country that does not exercise its sovereignty fully, truly and effectively over its natural wealth will always be on its knees before the international financial and economic organisms, the transnational corporations, and will never be able to be independent, autonomous and sovereign because the development of those strategic natural resources depends also on the existence of a strong nation.”
South America has some of the world’s largest fresh water reserves, those in Argentina being also stored in its glaciers. Bruzonne has warned in her research that as the world’s fresh water supplies deteriorate, they will become a strategic resource over which future conflict and wars will be fought, and therefore must be protected. Though Congress passed the Ley de Glaciares in 2007 that restricted mining in glacial areas, the president vetoed the law just a few months later. No measures have yet been taken to protect the country’s fresh water resources.
Argentina’s native forests have suffered similar neglect. According to Greenpeace Argentina, the country has lost 70 percent of its native forests to deforestation and the Secretary of Environmental and Sustainable Development estimates that between 1998 and 2006, 2.3 million hectares were deforested, or one hectare every two minutes.
After a bitter fight, Congress passed a law in 2007 that limited the cutting of native forests depending on different levels of severity of deforestation. However the implementation of the law has been another story, to be fought out on a provincial level, often pitting small-scale agricultural producers and environmentalists against well-resourced agribusinesses.
Sustainable economics?
But the practice of cutting down native forests and the often forced removal of small-scale local producers has been used to make way for large-scale agricultural enterprises, mostly the planting of transgenic soya, Argentina’s principal export. Each year the country increases its export of soya to places like China and Europe. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC), Argentina will export 50 million tonnes of soy in 2010 earning it the title of number one soya exporter in the world.
The biggest exporter of soya and other staples in Argentina is Cargill, which leads Forbes top ten private corporations in the US, reporting profits of over US$120bn annually. Cargill also owns the largest soya, wheat, and corn processing plants in Argentina, and is integrated with other top corporations in the country like fertilizer and seed producer Monsanto. Money is clearly being made, but how has it benefitted the people of Argentina?
Soya production is notorious for needing an increasing amount of land yet very few workers. Consumption of soya, as any Argentine supermarket will reveal, is not designated for Argentines but for people and cattle feed abroad. This might be seen as a cruel irony for a the two million Argentines who, according to UBA, go hungry each year, while living in a country with enough fertile land to feed its population multiple times over. Beyond the profits made by a dwindling pool of producers, the best chance Argentines have of seeing any of the benefits of soya production is through the hotly contested 35 percent government tax which generates an estimated US $5 million per year. How this money is distributed and whether it can give back what soya production takes is, of course, another story.
The question then becomes: Is the soya model, reliant on large amounts of land and at the whim of the international price market sustainable for Argentina’s economy and its people? With the ups and downs international finance has seen as of late there is reason to worry.
However some, like Sabato, believe that the fact that Argentina is producing goods required by the world market is a good thing, saying that the country has “a good chance of growing.” She believes that what is done with the growth is the real issue.
“What do you do with the money that pours through this commodity exchange? That’s the problem.” She says that the government often says one thing and does another, talking against soya “without trying to create alternatives for the long run.”
“They’re not doing anything to change the structure,” says Sabato. “There could be state policies devised to re-arrange this economy, without, because it’s an expanding one, restricting investment.” She laments what she calls the “improvised” way the current government handles things like taxes and prices controls and inflation.
“You have to have a plan. You have to have some horizon,” she says.
Big “D” and little “d”
When it comes to democracy, Argentina can be divided into big “D” Democracy of its politicians and the little “d” of its social movements. In terms of the current government and politicians, both Bruzonne and Sabato see little to be proud of.
“Our political world is poor. Not in terms of money. Poor in terms of capacity,” says Sabato. She goes on to discuss the inability of politicians to generate genuine political debate and criticises the “dangerous way” politicians face conflict. Instead of pluralism and diversity, Sabato says current politics centre around “defining and enemy and crushing it relentlessly”.
“This notion of politics, which was very common in Argentina in the second half of the 20th century and until the end of the dictatorship has caused a lot of pain,” she remarks.
In the face of pressing issues like the environment, Bruzonne notes the lack of “political courage” to make change, and directly calls the political classes and leaders “a disaster”.
“They are ignorant and generally very compromised – lots of corruption, lots of bribery…They don’t have a real and true commitment to their people,” she says.
Bruzzone believes politics “must be an act of service” to the country, rather than what she calls a “medium through which one fills their pockets” but “remains screwed to their seats” when decision time comes.
In a time of reflection like the bicentenary, Sabato sees the national government as offering no national agenda, and “doing nothing to reconstruct the state in a solid sense.”
Calling herself a survivor of the politically-repressive dictatorship that disappeared thousands young intellectuals, activists, and artists, Bruzzone says the challenge is not only to re-establish the state but “the social fabric” of society.
“We had a military dictatorship that destroyed a generation not for nothing. The generation that was assassinated and disappeared, which I was a part of, was the best of the best, with its dreams, its utopias, and with commitment. That’s what’s now missing in my country.”
Though dismantled during the dictatorship, this little “d” democracy has, however, been resurgent. Social movements of the poor and working-class have fought particularly through the rise of the piquetero movement in the 1990s and since the economic crash of 2001 to be heard and addressed. Their cries have been directed explicitly against the neo-liberal economic policies of privatisation that that have hit the poor and most vulnerable sectors of society the hardest. In response to economic crisis and the lack of social services, many having taken matters into their own hands as unemployed workers movements, community centres, soup kitchens, and recuperated factories have sprung up throughout the country. Bruzonne takes note of these movements, calling them the beginnings of a reconstruction of the “fabric of solidarity,” and the “revalorisation of human values”.
“In Argentina there is a long history of public participation,” observes Sabato. “One of them is the street. Since the 19th century, the street really has been a space for public participation. People go out into the streets and demonstrate.”
Argentina’s politicians may remain silent around key issues but everyday Argentines are certainly not quiet about their discontent.
Though Argentina may be 200 years old, national intellectuals like Sabato still find themselves asking questions like: “Are we able to create some common ground upon which to build this society?” With the amount the Argentine people have faced in the country’s 200 years, the question is both apt and deserving of an answer.
Bruzzone puts it differently, claiming that in order to confront the country’s challenges, “a second independence remains to be realised.
“Together we liberated ourselves of Spain but then we fell into the hands of the British and then the North Americans, and then into the hands of the multinational corporations and the international financial and economic organisations,” she says.
As the fanfare of the bicentenary fades away, the pressing issues of Argentina remain; those that when addressed will push the country toward an independence that won’t be shown in parades but in the concrete changes in the lives of its citizens. “It’s our turn to complete the project,” says Bruzzone, “And I think it’s worth completing.”



Gaza flotilla lesson: nonviolent discipline is the best moral and strategic choice

by MATTHEW TAYLOR on JUNE 11, 2010 ·
Prof. Michael N. Nagler, founder of UC Berkeley's Peace and Conflict Studies program and the Metta Center for Nonviolence Education (also, one of my mentors), shares a compelling perspective on the need to maintain strict discipline in a nonviolent direct action such as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla:
...Under normal circumstances even the “smallest” acts of violence can ruin the character of nonviolent action...
It is still hard to say exactly what happened when passengers aboard the Turkish vessel, the MV Mavi Marmara, clashed with Israeli commandos as they rappelled onto the boat from helicopters. Had the soldiers been firing live ammunition? The point is that even if they were – while terribly difficult – the passengers could have resisted nonviolently by refusing to comply with the soldiers’ demands without making any attempt to injure them.
Up until the recent attack it looked as though the flotilla, with its 600 passengers and many tons of humanitarian supplies for the beleaguered citizens of Gaza, was a perfect example of nonviolent action. Organisers’ intentions were advertised well in advance and it put the Israelis in the difficult position of deciding between two unfavourable choices...
However, as Gandhi often said, nonviolence requires, if anything, more training than violence.
Time and again, history has shown that a campaign of nonviolence is much more likely to succeed in accomplishing its stated objectives if the activists maintain nonviolent discipline. Numerous historical examples include the Philippines People Power Movement, Serbia's OTPOR! overthrow of Milošević, and dozens of others. On the other hand, the Seattle WTO protests demonstrate what happens when violence mixes with nonviolence. A small handful of Black Bloc anarchists smashed up windows and did the anti-corporate globalization movement no favors by distracting the press and confusing the issue.
On a deeper level, the true power of nonviolence to persuade the oppressor is unleashed with a commitment to pursue acts of courageous love (not just "not being violent"). For example, the Civil Rights Movement activists who sat in at the lunch counters, rode the buses, and registered voters never backed down, and nonviolently resisted the oppressors without demonization or rancor, but with a desire to win over those afflicted with racist views.
Remember George Wallace, the famous Alabama Governor who declared "Segregation now, segregation forever," and subsequently apologized prior to his death? If we want the Zionists who currently enable the policy of occupation to some day see the light, I believe we will only win them over with true nonviolence.
Yes, it would have been hard to maintain nonviolent discipline in the face of an assault like the one on the Mavi Marmara. But were those activists truly prepared? Had they undergone nonviolent training? Was there a consensus and commitment to nonviolence? Apparently not.
Consider as historical precedent the 1930 Indian raid on the Dharasana salt works, the climactic moment in Gandhi's movement to free India from British colonial rule:
On May 21, 1930, over 2,500 Indians “raided” the Dharasana salt works, a salt production facility controlled by the British regime. Column after column of Indians advanced toward the gates and were severely beaten by the native police under British direction. Not one of the Satyagrahis raised a hand to defend himself as the clubs rained down, fracturing skulls. Many lost consciousness, and several perished. In the Gandhi movie, the scene was famously encapsulated by a Western reporter: “Whatever moral ascendancy the West once held was lost here today.” The Indians accepted this suffering on behalf of the Truth they clung to of ending colonial rule.
While the Salt Satyagraha did not “succeed” in its short-term, situational objective – the salt laws were not repealed – it worked on a deeper level. British public opinion was deeply affected by the Dharasana nonviolent moment, which shockingly revealed the violence inherent in the British colonial system. Ultimately, this led to India’s independence in 1947.
In that incident, the strict nonviolent discipline of the raiders helped to move the hearts of the reference public and the British supporters of colonialism. No, I'm not claiming that discipline is easy, but I am claiming there are numerous historical examples that prove it is possible, and far more effective in advancing the goals of the campaign (as well as being the principled, moral path).
Before publication of this post, Phil Weiss asked me, "I wonder how much of this is because of Israeli violence; they want a violent outcome. And the conditions are far worse than what the Civil Rights Movement faced (and what if Turks didn't subscribe to nonviolence?)."
Two problems with this argument. One, the resisters' actions are not dictated by the oppressors' actions - the resisters can choose to maintain nonviolent discipline if they are properly prepared for it and committed. Two, resisters have maintained effective nonviolent discipline against oppressors who were far more ruthless than the Israeli commandos - see Ralph Summy's article, "Nonviolence and the case of the extremely ruthless oppressor."
In a recent email, Paul Larudee, cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement, noted that while he and many other Freedom Flotilla passengers were committed to nonviolence, many of the Turkish passengers who fought (and were wounded, and killed) were not committed to nonviolence. My argument -- recognizing that this is Monday-morning armchair Quarterbacking -- is future Flotillas should require a consistent commitment to nonviolence among all passengers. Gandhi and King required this commitment, and it's quite possible for international activist organizers to make this part of the pre-flight checklist before launching such an action.
My broader theme is we should have two main goals on the path toward Israeli/Palestinian equality: 1) shift the international political consensus, esp. the U.S. position, from enabling to obstructing Israel's oppression of the Palestinians, and 2) shift hearts and minds of Israelis (as well as Palestinians, as necessary) to support genuine equality.
The Gaza Flotilla apparently did a fantastic job with goal #1, and apparently has utterly backfired with #2. We cannot and must not operate as if Israeli public opinion is irrelevant; to do so is both a strategic and moral blunder. There's a reason that so many Israelis demonstrated in support of the IDF's actions, and I think the violence of the resisters was a huge part of it. Notice how the violent resistance was looped in Caroline Glick's video -- however offensive the video may have been, it underscored the Israeli hasbara about "violent activists". And while there's no doubt Israeli propaganda distorts reality quite often, in this case, it appears there's some truth. When you build propaganda around some kernel of truth, it's a lot easier to get people to swallow the whole of it then when it's entirely fabricated.
By the way, shifting views of American Jews is also key, and wouldn't the case be even easier to make and more powerful right now without the confusion of what the flotilla passengers did or didn't do when they were boarded?
During my travels in Israel, I found many of the Israeli Jews I interviewed to be intensely scared to their deepest core, behind all of the bluster and tough talk about not giving an inch to the Arabs. We must remember: understandable, justifiable fear of anti-Jewish oppression was the most powerful motivating factor for the project of political Zionism from its inception 130 years ago, and I argue that fear still is the primary motivating factor whether it's justified fear or not. We must design our activism campaigns to both end the oppression of the Palestinians AND help Israelis to feel less scared and more recognized for their humanity. The most powerful path, and I'd argue the only path, to achieve this is true nonviolence in the tradition of Gandhi and King.
Finally, I hope no one (especially the Gaza Flotilla veterans) hears this as taking away from the very real gains coming in the wake of the action. Put another way: look at how much we accomplished with the mixed message of some nonviolence and some violence, how much more could we accomplish with a consistent and disciplined commitment to nonviolence? If history is any guide, the answer is clear... much more.


Non-violence is not a principle, it is a tactic

Max Ajl

June 14, 2010

Max Ajl, who blogs at Jewbonics, responds to Matthew Taylor's post urging non-violence in the wake of the flotilla raid:

I thought the latest post by Matthew Taylor was out of touch. I have news for him: violence works. Violence pushed Israel out of southern Lebanon, and violence repelled the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 2006. Violence let the Bielski partisans save our people during the Holocaust. Violence defined the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, one of the prouder moments of Jewish history. 
Non-violence can only be assessed conjuncturally, within a dense mesh of sociology, history, politics, and ideology. Each situation is different. 

There are no formulas. But we can use a rough typology of tactics. Non-violence must be pitched to appeal to either the world’s conscience, or the humanity of the oppressor. It can also function as widespread civil disobedience—a general strike, for example, that can jam up the machinery of violence. These tactics are not exclusive of one another, but nonetheless it is clear that non-violence is not a principle, as Taylor raises it to. It itself is a tactic.
Taylor extracts his principle from a mis-reading of Gandhi, who supported violent resistance, and a mis-reading of Indian history. The British presence in colonial India was less than .05 percent of the population. The colonial apparatus mostly relied on the native "sepoy" army. Gandhian non-violence intended to sway that army, not the British colonizers. And that didn’t work either. 
Japanese violence ended British colonialism, not Gandhi, and even Gandhi’s non-violence worked against the looming fist of violent resistance taking place around the rest of the subcontinent.
Consider the feasibility of those options on the Mavi Marmara. Could the passengers rely on appealing to the conscience of Israeli commandoes while they were firing bullets at the activists? Taylor thinks so: "the true power of nonviolence to persuade the oppressor is unleashed with a commitment to pursue acts of courageous love." This seems wooly to me. Palestinian nationalism will be dead under a Merkava tank well before the oppressor is persuaded by local non-violent action (BDS globalizes non-violence in an ingenious way and creates a different correlation of forces, but plainly Taylor is not talking about this). Taylor instead is glossing his professor, Nagler. To say, "The point is that even if they were – while terribly difficult – the passengers could have resisted nonviolently by refusing to comply with the soldiers’ demands without making any attempt to injure them," is ridiculous. When someone is shooting at you and your friends, you must disarm them, and probably use violence to do so. If you can’t disarm them, you must use violence to stop them from shooting, one way or another. The demand a bullet entering your skull makes on you is for you to die, and if there is a way to "refuse to comply" with that demand, Taylor and Nagler should fess up quick.
In terms of the appeal of non-violence aboard the Mavi Marmara to the world’s conscience, what is there to say? Israeli commandoes were authorized to use deadly violence, according to Michael Oren. The nine martyrs and the dozens of injured made this a major news-story, far bigger than if there had been no resistance of any sort. Did it appeal to the humanity of the world? Manifestly. There have been explosions of unrest in previously quiescent populations. The Egyptian opposition’s mobilizational capacity was quite low before the massacre. In its wake the opposition has organized many amazing actions. In Istanbul and in other Muslim countries, Palestine is at the forefront of every demonstration. The Spanish government is discussing how to end the blockade. Civil society will not stop sending ships until the blockade is broken. What sort of response is Taylor looking for? A sudden "moment" when Americans rise up and overthrow our thug government for its complicity in the ongoing Nakba? Not going to happen, not yet—and those accustomed to accepting whatever hasbara Israel emits would not have changed their minds if the activists had stuck to non-violence. They wouldn’t have noticed, most likely. Nagler, Taylor’s mentor, acknowledges this, writing, "why was there virtually no coverage of the flotilla in the international media until the tragedy? Do we want 'if it bleeds, it leads’ journalism to continue shaping our cultural narratives, constantly putting sales appeal ahead of political cogency?" ("We" don’t own the press agencies. If "we" did, as Marcuse pointed out a long time ago, the revolution would have taken place a long, long time ago). Nagler wants impotent purism raised to an operational principle of the solidarity movement. Good luck with that.
Finally, in terms of jamming the machinery of occupation or violence: the passengers on the Mavi Marmara apparently did a great deal of this. They used water-hoses and repelling poles to keep commandoes off the deck. On other ships, some activists formed human chains, or jumped into the water to buy time, as Paul Larudee did. This can work, but, again, we run into the problem: the blurring of non-violence and violence. Where does disarming gun-toting commandoes fall? Violent or non-violent? Repelling their boarding vessels? Forceful or non-forceful? The Palestinian women who pushed Israeli soldiers at Budrus? Violent or non-violent? Taylor later writes that breaking windows constitutes violence. By this logic, blowing up unoccupied tanks is also "violent," and certainly, using a hammer to hit a soldier spraying bullets into civilians is also violence. Can Taylor possibly be serious about this principle, or the trouble that results when one maps non-violence and violence onto the ethical and moral spheres, and creates precise alignments between "non-violence" and ethical and moral rectitude, "violence" and ethical and moral disarray?
Taylor probably thinks that resistance on the Rachel Corrie followed his proposed path (although he doesn’t mention the Rachel Corrie. Funny, that ship was barely in the news. Could that have had something to do with the presence or absence of forceful resistance?). Anyway, on the Rachel Corrie, the passengers were understandably scared and horrified, and resisted so little because they didn’t want to die. This is no judgment on their bravery. But the sort of non-violence Taylor supports is the sort that castrates resistance, and takes resistance out of the realm of history and into the realm of religion. What would Taylor have recommended to the Vietnamese? There is nothing nefarious about defending oneself from armed attack. Making it nefarious writes the Palestinian right to resist out of history, reserving righteous violence and force for the Western powers that already almost monopolize it. Taylor wants to turn the fact of an imbalance of forces into a principle: don’t resist. He wants to willfully "try to raise ourselves to such a cultural and moral level, both as individuals and as a community, that we would be able to control this reflex"—the resort to violence, as Chomsky wrote 40 years ago. But what Chomsky was talking about intra-communal oppression, and so intra-communal resistance.
Taylor is talking about something else entirely. He is talking about resistance to policies supported by an ideology that de-humanizes those whom it oppresses. Taylor thinks we should appeal to "Israeli public opinion," and not act as if it is "irrelevant; to do so is both a strategic and moral blunder. There's a reason that so many Israelis demonstrated in support of the IDF's actions, and I think the violence of the resisters was a huge part of it." Who is guilty of this blunder? Of course Israeli public opinion is relevant. That’s precisely what BDS targets. But it targets it using a measure of coercion, because the Palestinians can’t afford to wait while a militarized Sparta comes to its senses. Israeli articulate opinion is mostly upset that the assault on the Mavi Marmara didn’t conform to its expectations. Does Taylor read the mainstream and right-wing Israeli press? This is a thoroughly brainwashed, militarized population. Yes, scared, not eager to join the military to brutalize and be brutalized, except the hard-right Zionists who disproportionately occupy the officer corps and make operational decisions in combat situations, but with a bunker mentality, and often, deeply racist—last week MK Ahmad Tibi was nearly assaulted in the Knesset by racist thugs for trying to deliver concrete to people without homes. Taylor writes that "We must design our activism campaigns to both end the oppression of the Palestinians AND help Israelis to feel less scared and more recognized for their humanity." What could he mean? Israelis aren’t acting in a humane manner, for the most part. We can’t recognize something that isn’t there. And we are fantasists if we choose to believe otherwise. It is not the job of solidarity activists to heal Israeli culture. Israel is not fence-sitting. It is actively carrying out horrible crimes with the passive or active complicity of the overwhelming majority of its population. The men who wield power in that society should be facing war crimes trials, not quibbles about whether the solidarity movement is hurting their feelings. 
There is far more to say: on how Western media frames resistance, on how it accepts the Israeli narrative or the imperial narrative, on how to acknowledge this as we plan tactics and strategy until such time as we can control the narratives, on the nature of institutional and non-institutional racism vis-à-vis Western solidarity activist-based resistance and Palestinian resistance, on the naturalization of state violence, Israeli and American aggression rights, and the relentless transformation, via dominant narratives, of just resistance into unjust terror, a narrative that unfortunately Taylor strengthens.
Summing up, here’s what I think. Those who resisted violently were brave. Those who resisted non-violently were brave. All were right. All were just. Solidarity organizations can agree in advance to resist or not to resist, as Taylor instructs us. But most oppression in human history has been thrown off by horrible violence. Frankly, if a man has a gun pointed at my head on my own territory and has shot the person standing next to me, and I can disarm that man, I will disarm him. And there is something surreal, if not pitiful, to demand not only that I abjure that basic human response, but furthermore, abjure it when the gun is pointed not at my head but at the person standing next to me. Writing about it admittedly makes for good copy and good employment for those living and writing in Western countries where power is eager to dissolve an internationally-sanctioned right to resist. For those living under the gun, Taylor’s prescriptions may seem a little odder.