Saturday, December 31, 2016

2526. Frankenstein in the Promised Land

By Kamran Nayeri, August 1, 2014

Between 8 July and 27 August, Israeli forces killed more than 2,100 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations the vast majority of Palestinian deaths were civilian, 504 of them children.  17,200 homes were destroyed as well as 244 schools, and 475,000 were forced to live in an emergency shelter or with relatives. The Gaza Strip is only 4,505 square kilometers but is home to 1.8 million Palestinians.  In contrast, only 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians were killed by Hamas forces.  In a just world, Israeli actions in Gaza Strip would have been condemned and prosecuted as war crimes. Not action against Israel has ever been taken. If fact the U.S. government resupplied Israeli air force during the Gaza campaign. 

Editor's note: In his parting speech, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, publicly acknowledged that the Israeli government has shown no interest in pursuing a peaceful end to the bloody conflict with Palestinians and has consistently undermined all efforts for a "two-state solution."  A few days earlier, the Obama administration refused to veto a Security Council resolution that condemned newly planned housings in East Jerusalem.  Kerry and President Obama were roundly condemned by the Israeli government as well as the leaders of both parties in the U.S. 

The so-called "two-state solution" is nothing more than creating a Bantustan-type entity in parts of West Bank and Gaza Strip to forestall a majority Palestinian Jewish State which would be a reality if Israel annexes the rest of Palestine.  The Zionist movement and with it the United States imperialist elite are divided on how to maintain the Jewish State without openly creating an apartheid state where a large section of the population is disenfranchised. This crisis of Zionism, as well as imperialism, will intensify in the coming years--alas, it will also bring about much more misery for the Palestinian people.  Israel may be the last significant holdout of the nineteenth-century racist colonial-settler movement. But its end will come as its internal contradictions intensify and as the march of humanity forward continues. 


The following essay was written at the end of the Israeli murderous assault on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from July 8 to August 27, 2014.  It takes up a correspondence from a Zionist reader of OPITW that objected to the reporting of the Israeli war crimes.  The Jewish people who suffered discrimination throughout history and in the German fascist Holocaust bear the singular moral responsibility to denounce Zionism as a racist colonial-settler ideology that has murdered, wonder, jailed, tortured, humiliated and expropriated and displaced millions of Palestinians in and from their own homeland in order to build the Jewish State. Only when a significant section of the Jewish population in Israel and the world join the Palestinian struggle for self-determination can there be a possibility for a democratic secular Palestine where they can live alongside Palestinians and others as equals in peace and rejoin the march of humanity to live in harmony within itself and with the rest of nature. 
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A reader of Our Place in the World (OPITW)—an older New York Jewish woman who lives in Costa Rica (let’s called her Judy)—has asked me to remove her from the OPITW weekly letters list because she disagrees with Jeff Mackler’s “Stop the Israeli Invasion of Gaza!” (post 1492).  

Those on the OPITW  “friends” list receive more or less weekly updates with a brief note and hyperlinks to the most recent posts. Judy got on the list mostly because of her expressed interest in the Cuban revolution.   


In her email, Judy complains that Mackler’s article is skewed in its treatment of what she saw as the conflict between Israel and Hamas which she calls “a longstanding terrorist organization.”  She also claims that Mackler’s article did not even mention “the horrific period of the Holocaust.” She ends by decrying that “The world only wants the Jewish people to be weak once again.” 

Of course, Judy could have expressed her concerns as a comment to Mackler’s article on OPITW, thereby encouraging discussion.  Disagreements are no reason to cut off relations in normal circumstance.  So, let's deal with her concerns here.  

First, Hamas is a relatively recent political formation among the Palestinians and the terrorist designation of it is the work of the Israeli and the American governments.  As we know after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the imperialist fear mongering campaign has shifted, especially after 9/11 terrorist attacks, from “Communism” to “terrorism.” As I will discuss below, in this conflict it is the Israeli regime that is the real terrorist. 

Second: how about the Holocaust? Jeff Mackler’s article, in fact, does mention the Holocaust but understandably its focus is on the current crimes of the Israeli regime against the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip.  

Third, the outrage at Israeli criminal assault on defenseless Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has ignited a wave of protests across the world, including among a minority of Jews in Israel and in the United States.  The aim of these protests is not to make the “Jewish people weak once again” but to stop the Israeli government’s murderous war against the people of Gaza Strip and Palestinians in general.  This is crystal clear as the protest include a number of Jewish peace organizations, including in Israel and the United States. In Israel, the protest have been crushed by rightwing and neofascist physical attacks. 

Another Jewish woman who receives my weekly letters and learned about Judy’s views as I related them to those on that list wrote to me expressing her sympathies with the Palestinians. She wrote in part: 
“I've lived with this stuff all my life, from the time my parents sent me to my room, during the 1967 war, when I was 8, for questioning why they and an uncle were discussing the news and supporting violence against Arabs.
“I've found Israel to be one of those issues where liberals tend to go off the deep end and endorse the most hideous things, revealing that they are not ‘progressive' at all.   
“Last week I wrote on Facebook that it is beyond disgraceful to see fellow Jews, descendants of survivors of pogroms, waging pogroms in Gaza.”

Zionism and the Israeli Apartheid
Why would two Jewish women arrive at such different understanding of the reality of Israel state’s policies?  The answer is Zionism.  

Judy is blinded to the sufferings of the Palestinian people. The key to understating the crisis in the Middle East is to understand Zionism. That is why Jeff Mackler’s article is so valuable as it places the atrocities of the Israeli government in the Gaza Strip in its historical context. And that is why it has outraged Judy. 

The Zionist movement emerged in late nineteenth century as part of the general European colonialist movement.  It represented a major split in the Jewish community that endures to this day—one between the Jewish revolutionary socialists who combined the fight against anti-Semitism with the struggle for socialism and those who wanted to escape European anti-Semitism by establishing a Jewish State somewhere else as part and parcel of the world capitalist order.  

Despite the prevalent Zionist propaganda that tries to justify the occupation of Palestine on the basis of the Jewish mythology of The Chosen People returning to The Promised Land, the Zionist movement considered a number of other locations for colonization.  For example, in 1903 at the sixth Zionist Congress Theodor Herzl, the “Father of Modern Zionism,” proposed Uganda as the site for the Jewish State.  However, in the aftermath of the First World War and division of the Middle East and North Africa between the English and French imperialism, Palestine became the target of the Zionist movement. This was codified in the Balfour Declaration that was first proposed in a letter from the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to the British Zionist financier Baron Walter Rothschild dated November 2, 1917 and later incorporated into the Sèvres peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire and the Mandate for Palestine.

Subsequently, the Zionist movement organized settlements of European Jews in the historical Palestine to lay the basis for a Jewish State.  Like in all European colonies, the process of land grab was pursued by any means necessary, including through the use of force and terrorist Zionist groups such as such as the Irgun, the Lehi, the Haganah and the Palmach.  In fact, Menachem Begin, a leader of the terrorist group Irgun, later became Israel’s Prime Minster (He was succeeded by another terrorist, Ariel Sharon). 

The Nazi persecution of Jews and the Holocaust caused the mass migration of European Jews.  However, key destination countries such as the United States limited Jewish immigration and encouraged their settlement in Palestine, a policy supported by the Zionist leaders.  By the end of the World War II, the United Stated had emerged as the undisputed imperialist power. As part of the consolidation of its empire, the United States moved to establish Israel as its outpost in the Middle East.   The recently formed United Nations very much under the sway of the Allies, especially the United States, drew the partition plan for Palestine voted for by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947.  On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. U.S. President Harry S. Truman recognized the new nation on the same day.

Thus, Israel was established as the Jewish State in violation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.  However, as Mackler points out Israel is no ordinary nation-state.  It has never defined its borders because the Zionist movement has always claimed the Greater Israel, shifting geographical designation, as its “homeland” that often extends well beyond the historic Palestine.  The history of the Jewish State has seen a relentless push to expand its territory and force Palestinians to flee their land. It has also been marked by war with its Arab neighbors (for a history see, Middle East Research and Information Project—MERIP).  

Israel has degraded the Palestinian people by dividing them into variously oppressed groups. About 20% of the population of Israel are “Arabs” (that is Palestinians). They have lived as second-class citizens.  Then there are Palestinians who live in the West Bank who were under the Jordanian administration from 1948 to 1967 and after the Six Day War have lived under Israeli occupation.  The Gaza Strip was mostly administered by Egypt (1959-1967) and then under the Israeli occupation from 1967 to 2005. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza Strip but placed it under a tight blockade that has remained in place, with Egyptian help, until today. In fact, one of the demands of Hamas and the people of Gaza Strip is the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Then there are Palestinian refugees who live in camps mostly in Jordan and Lebanon. Finally, millions of other Palestinians are scattered all over the world in hope of returning to their homeland. 

Frankenstein in the Promised Land 
Thus, the Zionist movement and its imperialist backers have created a Frankenstein in the Promised Land: a nineteenth-century European-inspired colonial-settler state founded on the basis of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of its native Palestinian population that is inherently racist and at war with its Arab and other neighbors.  As such, Israel has been the reliable key imperialist outpost, a garrison state, in the Middle East and North Africa. It is the only nuclear state in the Middle East with an estimated 300 nuclear devices. Although the Israeli government never denies having nuclear weapons it is shielded from international scrutiny by the United States that has supported it constantly with $3 billion dollars of military aid every year even as it curtails social programs for the American working people due to claimed budgetary constraint.  Although created by a U.S. inspired U.N. resolution, Israel has never abided by the decisions of the United Nations for its repeated violation of international norms, always shielded by the U.S. veto power in the Security Council.  Israel is a bulwark of international reaction; it was a staunch supporter of the South African Apartheid regime but has opposed every anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement in the Middle East and around the world.  It supported the United States in its Indochina war, opposed the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979, and is the only country in the United Nations General Assembly that consistently votes in support of the U.S. embargo of the Cuban revolution.  Thus, the Jewish people who fled anti-Semitism in Europe and Nazi Holocaust, especially those who came to Palestine with socialistic aspirations, have been betrayed by their Zionist leaders, and, in many cases have been transformed into racist oppressors that serve the interest of imperialism and oppose the Arab revolution.

As long as this Frankenstein exists in the heart of the Middle East there will never be peace.  There will never be a stable two-state solution to “the Palestinian problem” because of the very racist and expansionist nature of the Zionist regime as the failure of the Oslo Peace Accord has demonstrated.  The only possible solution to the 66-year-old crisis is the replacement of Israel (the Jewish State) with a democratic secular state with its historic name, Palestine, where Palestinians and Jews live as citizens with equal rights and opportunities.  Contrary to Judy's view (as quoted above), the Jewish people can be strong only when they learn to live alongside their Palestinian brothers and sisters as equals not as their oppressors.  That is the only road to peace in the Middle East.  (Of course, there are other monsters in the Middle East but that need separate discussion and analysis; see my three part article "From Nasser to Mubarak: The Rise and Fall of Arab Nationalism, Part 1Part 2Part 3). 

However, it is important to note that the demand for a democratic secular Palestine that was first raised by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1969 cannot meet the current requirements of the regional and global crisis that are also environmental and ecological (see my "Economics, Socialism and Ecology: A Critical Outline, Part 1 and Part 2).  The 1969 perspective of a national liberation movement did not concern itself with the ecological crisis of the Middle East.  Rapid population growth, pollution, degradation of land, rivers, natural habitats combined with the national, regional and world capitalist crises require urgent action that will transcend the artificial borders of countries created based on inter-imperialist negotiations in the aftermath of World War I and World War II.    The civil war in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the rise and fall of the Egyptian revolutionary movement, the sectarian and tribal wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and the conflict between Israel and Palestinians and Israel and its Arab neighbors are accentuated or in part originated by such environmental and economic crises.  

The most forward-looking Palestinian, Arab, Jewish and other peoples of the Middle East and North Africa would realize the need for a common effort to address ecological and social justice issues in tandem and across the bioregion.  A United Ecological Socialist Middle East and North Africa is the only truly viable perspective for the peoples of the region.  That, and not the nationalistic and religiously inspired formations, is the only perspective that can emancipate the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa and join similar struggles elsewhere towards an ecological socialist world. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

2525. E.O.Wilson: The Sixth Extinction: Life and Death in the Biosphere

By E. O. Wilson, Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life, May 2016


Editor's note: The following text is from E. O. Wilson's Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Lifechapter 7: "Why Extinction Is Accelerating?"  Only a few sentences from the first paragraph were omitted to shorten the text as much as possible. Title and subtitles are mine. I urge the reader to read the entire book. 

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Very few people wish to see species disappear, except those occasional pests that attack our bodies and sources of food….Other than still-unknot pathogens among bacteria, microscopic fungi, and viruses, the number of species worthy of extinction, or at least of harmless storage in liquid nitrogen, is probably (my guess( fewer than a thousand…

The millions of other species are beneficial to human welfare, whether directly or indirectly. There are unfortunately almost countless ways humans are hastening their extinction, what ever might be their present or future beneficial roles.  The human impact is largely due to the excess of the many quotidian activities we preform just to get on with our personal lives.  Those activities have made us the most destructive species in the history of life.

The extinction rate
How fast are we driving species to extinction? For years paleontologists and biodiversity experts have believed that before the coming of humanity about two hundred years ago, the rate of origin of new species per extinction of existing species was roughly one species per million species per year. As a consequence of human activity, it is believed that he current rate of extinction overall is between one hundred and one thousand times higher than it was originally, and all due to human activity.

In 2015 an international team of researchers finished a careful analysis of the prehuman rates and came up with a diversification rate ten times lower in general (groups of closely related species). The data, when translated to species extinctions, suggests species extinction rates at the present time are closer to one thousand times higher than that before the spread of humanity. The estimate is further consistent with an independent study that detected a similar downward shift in the rate of species formation in pre-humans, as well s in their closet relatives among the great apes.  

Every expansion of human activity reduces the population size of more and more species, raising their vulnerability and the rate of extinction accordingly.  A 2008 mathematical model by a team of botanists predicated that between 37 and 50 percent of rare tree species in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest, “rare” defined as having populations of fewer than ten thousand individuals, will suffer early extinction, caused by contemporary road building, logging, mining, and conversion of land to agriculture. The lower figure, 37 percent applies to areas  developed in part but protected by careful management. 

It is difficult to make comparisons of origin and extinction rates across different kinds of plants and animals in different parts of the world. But all the available evidence points to the same two conclusions. First, the Sixth Extinction is under way; and second, human activity is its driving force.

Does conservation work? 
This grim assessment leads to a second question: How well is conservation working? How much have the efforts of global conservation movements achieved in slowing and halting the devastation of Earth’s biodiversity? Having served on the boards of Conservation International. The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund00U.S., and as advisor to many local conservation organizations, I can testify to the zeal and inspiration, backed by private and public funding, and to the years of sweat and blood in the field, that have gone into conservation efforts around the world during the past half century. How much has this heroic effort accomplished? 

In 2010 a survey conducted by close to two hundred experts on vertebrate land animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians) analyzed the status of all the 25,780 know species. One-fifth were confirmed as threatened with extinction, and of these a fifth had been stabilized as a result of conservation efforts.  An independent study in 2006 had already concluded that extinction of bird species in particular had been cut by about 50 percent as a result of conservation efforts during the past century.  Thirty-one bird species worldwide still live because of efforts on their behalf. In short, global conservation thus far, when averaged out for land-dwelling vertebrates, has lowered extinction rates of species by approximately 20 percent. 

Next, what is the impact of government regulation, in particular the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973? A review made in 2005 found that a quarter of the 1,370 American plant and animal species classified earlier as threatened achieved new population growth, while 40 percent declined, with 13 of the listed species improved enough to be taken off the endangered list. The most important statistic is that while 22 spaces had slipped into extinction, 227 had been saved that would likely have otherwise disappeared.  Among the more familiar protected species that have climbed back to health are the yellow shouldered blackbird, green sea turtle, and bighorn sheep. 

These successes have show that conservation works, but at the level of effort being applied at the present, it falls far short of what is needed to save the natural world. The conservation movement has slowed the species extinction rate but failed to bring it anywhere close to the prehuman level.  At the same time the birth rate of species is dropping rapidly. Like and accident patient in emergency care continuing to hemorrhage and with no new supply of blood available, stabilization is out of reach and further decline and death are inevitable.  We might be inclined to say to the surgeons and conservationists alike, “Congratulations. You have extended a life, but not by much.”  

Of course, not all wild species are threatened by the assault on biodiversity.  A few are compatible with a humanized environment.  What fraction of the present survivors will last to the end of this century? If present conditions persists, perhaps half.  More likely, fewer than one-fourth. 

That is my guess. But the fact is that due to habitat loss alone, the rate of extinction is rising in most parts of the world.  The preeminent sites of biodiversity loss are the tropical forests and coral reefs.  The most vulnerable habitats of all, with the highest extinction rates per unit area, are rivers, streams, and lakes in both tropical and temperate regions.

An established principle in conversation biology for all habitats is that a reduction in art results in   a fraction of the species disappearing in time by roughly the fourth root of the area.  If 90 percent of a forest is cut, for example, about half of the species will soon disappear that would have been otherwise persisted. And the beginning most of the species may survive for a while, but roughly half will have populations too small to persist for more than a few generations. 

Barro Colorado Island in Panama has proved a valuable natural laboratory to study the effect of area on extinction. Covered by rain forest, it was created by the formation of Gatun Lake in 1913 during the construction of the Panama Canal. An ornithologist, John Terborgh, predicated that after fifty years the island would lose seventeen bird species.  The actual number was thirteen, representing 12 percent of the one hundred eight breeding species originally present.  On the other side of the world, a 0.9-square-kilometer patch of rain forest, the Bogor Botanical Garden of Indonesia, was also isolated, not by water but by clearing of all the forest around it.  In the first fifty years it lost twenty of its sixty-two breeding bird species, approximately the number expected.

Causes of extinction
Conservation scientists often use the acronym HIPPO for a quick recall of the most ruinous of our activities, in order of importance:

Habitat destruction. This includes that caused by climate change.

Invasive species.  This include plants and animals that crowd out native species and attack crops and native vegetation, as well as microbes causing disease in humans and other species. 

Pollution. The effluents from human activity are killers of life, especially in rivers and other freshwater ecosystems, the most vulnerable of Earth’s habitats. 

Population growth.  Although it is still widely unpopular to say so, we must really slow down. Reproduction is obviously necessary, but it is a bad idea, as Pope Francis I has pointed out, to continue multiplying like rabbits.  Demographic projections suggest that the human population will rise to about eleven billion or slightly more before the end of the century, thereafter peak, and begin to subside. Unfortunately for sustainability of the biosphere, per-capita consumption is also destined to rise, and perhaps even more steeply than human numbers. Unless the right technology is brought to bear that greatly improve efficiency and productivity per unit area, there will be a continued increase in humanity’s ecological footprint, defined as the area of Earth’s surface each person on average needs.  The footprint is not just local art, but space scattered across land and sea, in pieces for habitation, food, transportation, governance, and all other services down to and including recreation.

Overhunting.  Fishing and hunting can be pressed until the target species is driven to extinction or on the way, making the last surviving populations subject to final erasure by disease, competition, changes in weather, and other stresses survived by larger ad more far-ranging populations of the same species. 

Single causes in the decline and extinction of species can be identified readily in a few cases. One example is the dietary preferences of the brown tree snake, which is especially skilled in preying on bird nestlings.  Another has been identified in the decline of the monarch butterfly in the Midwest, which famously overwinters in masses of millions on pine trees in Mexican state of Michoaćan.  By 2014, there was an 81 percent decline of the butterflies in the United States Midwest populations, attributed to a 58 percent decline in milkweeds, the exclusive food plant of the monarch caterpillars. The milkweeds have fallen off in turn because of the increased use of glyphosate weed killer in corn (maize) and soybean fields.  The crops have flourished after being genetically modified to resist the weed killer, while the wild milkweed plants have not been so protected.  With their food supply unintentionally reduced the migrating monarch butterflies of both the United States and Mexico have declined steeply. 

In most extinctions, however, the causes are multiple, linked to one another in some way, all ultimately the result of human activity.  In one well-analyzed example of multiple causes, the Allegheny wood rat has vanished or grown endangered through a third of its range.  It is considered to have suffered from the extinction of the American Chestnut and hence the loss of its seeds, on which the species partly depend. Also important have been the logging and fragmentation of forests where the wood rats live, plus further reduction of this habitat by the voracity of the invasive European gypsy moth.  The coup de gras is the roundworm infection from raccoons, which are animals better suited than the wood rats to live around humans.

Those unimpressed by the fall of a rodent may turn a more caring eye to the songbirds that migrate each yea between their winter grounds in the New World tropics and breeding range in the eastern United States.  From data compiled by the federally sponsored North American Breeding Bird Survey along withe Audubon  Society Christmas Bird Count, it is clear that populations of more than two dozen species are in a steep descent.  Those affected include the wood thrush, Kentucky warbler, eastern kingbird, and bobolink. One, Bachman’s warbler, whose wintering ground was in Cuba, has gone extinct.  I have a place in my heart for this little bird.  During field trips to the floodplain forests of the U.S. Gulf Coast, which brought me close to canebrakes where the warbler once nested, I’ve often looked and listened for a Backman’s as best I could (admittedly not very skillfully), but to no avail.

It sometimes seems as though the reminder of American native plants and animals are under deliberate assault by everything humanity can throw at them.  Leading the list is our deadly arsenal are the destruction o both wintering and breeding habitats, heavy use of pesticides, shortage of natural insect and plant food, and artificial light pollution causing errors in migratory navigation.  Climate change and acidification pose newly recognized yet game-changing risks—shifts in all aspects of the rhythms of the environment away from those necessary for wildlife survival and reproduction.  

Facts about biodiversity
There exist several facts about global biodiversity to keep in mind while trying to save it.  The first is that the human caused agents of extinction are synergistic.  As  any one of the agents intensifies, it causes others to intensify also, and the sum of the changes is an acceleration of extinction.  Clearing a forest for agriculture reduces habitat, diminishes carbon capture, and introduces pollutions that are carried downstream to degrade otherwise pure aquatic habitats en route. With the disappearance of any native predator or herbivore species, the reminder of the ecosystem is altered, sometimes catastrophically.  The same is true of the addition of an invasive species. 

Another overarching principle of biodiversity is the greater richness of tropical environments over temperate environments, in both number of species and vulnerability.   While the variety of aphids, lichens, and conifers increases poleward, a vastly larger number of other kinds of organisms increase in the opposite direction.  For example, you can expect to find about fifty species of ants in a square kilometer of New England temperate forest (if you care to look) but up to ten times that number in a comparable area of rain forest in Ecuador or Borneo.

A third principle of biodiversity worth noting is in the relation between its richness and the geographical range of the species comprising it. A large fraction of the species of plants and animals of the temperate NorthAmerican are distributed across most of the content, but very few species range the same way across tropical South America. 

When these last two principles are linked, both entailing the numbers of resident species, we find as expected that on average tropical species are more vulnerable than temperate species.  They occupy smaller ranges and thereby manage to sustain smaller populations. Furthermore, existing as they do among a greater array of competing species, they tend to be more specialized in where they live, in what they eat, and by the predators that hunt and eat them.  

As a general rule to follow in conservation practice is therefore that, while clear-cutting a squat kilometer of old-growth coniferous forest in Canada, Finland, or Siberia will do a lot of environmental damage, cutting the same area of old-growth rain forest in Brazil or Indonesia will do far more damage.  

Finally, there is the immense disparity between the 62,839 known species of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, the total number in 2010) and 1.3 million known invertebrate species (also 2010). Almost all the information on quantitative trends in biodiversity are based on the vertebrates, the big animals with which we have intimate familiarity. There are well-studied groups within the invertebrates, notably mollusks and butterflies, but even these organisms are less well known than the mammals, birds, and reptiles.The great majority of invertebrate species, notably hyper diverse insects and marine organisms, remain to be discovered and made known to science. Nevertheless, of those groups well enough studies to make  estimate of their conservation status down to species, such as freshwater crabs, crayfish, dragonflies, and corals, the percentages of vulnerable and endangered species are comparable to those of vertebrates.

Avoiding misconceptions about the Sixth Extinction 
In thinking about life and death in the biosphere, it is important to avoid two misconceptions. The first is the a rare declining species is probably senescent.  You might think that its time has come so let it go. The contrary, its young are just as vital as the young of the most aggressive expanding species with which they compete.  If its population is shrinking in size from vulnerable to endangered to critically endangered (the scale of descent used in the Red List of the International Union of Conservation of Nature)*, the reason is neither age nor destiny of the species. Instead, the reason is the predicament in which the Darwinian process of natural selection has placed it.  The environment is changing, and the genes assembled by earlier natural selection are by happenstance not able to adapt quickly enough.  The species is a victim of bad luck, rather like a farmer who invests at the start of a ten-year drought.  Put some young individuals into an environment where the genes are better adapted, and the species will flourish. 

Humanity, keep in mind, is the principal architect of such maladaptive environments. Conservation biology is the scientific discipline by which better environment are identified and protected or restored for species imperiled within them. 

Biologists recognize that across the 3.8 billion-year history of life over 99 percent of all species are extinct. This being the case, what, we are often asked, is so bad about extinction?  The answer, of course, is that many of the species over eons didn’t die at all, they turned into two or more daughter species. Species are like amoebae; they multiply by splitting, not by making embryos.  The most successful are the progenitors of the most species through time, just as the most successful humans are those whose lineages expand the most and persist the longest. The birth and death rates of humans are close to a global balance, with birth having the edge for the last sixty-five thousands years or so. Most important, we, like all other species, are product of a highly successful and potentially important line that goes back all the way to the birth of humanity and beyond that for billions of years, to the time when life began.  The same is true of the creatures still around us. They are champions, each and all. Thus far.  


* The Red List scale for individual species is the following in descending order: Least Concern (LC), Near Threatened (NT), Endangered (N), Critically Endangered (CR), Extinct in the Wild (EW), Extinct (E). 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2524. Germany: The 1904-08 Genocide in Colonial Namibia Comes to Light

By Norimitsu Onishi, The New York Times, December 29, 2016


WATERBERG, Namibia — In this faraway corner of southern Africa, scores of German soldiers lie in a military cemetery, their names, dates and details engraved on separate polished tombstones.

Easily missed is a single small plaque on the cemetery wall that gives a nod in German to the African “warriors” who died in the fighting as well. Nameless, they are among the tens of thousands of Africans killed in what historians have long considered — and what the German government is now close to recognizing — as the 20th century’s first genocide.

A century after losing its colonial possessions in Africa, Germany and its former colony, Namibia, are now engaged in intense negotiations to put an end to one of the ugliest chapters of Europe’s past in Africa.

During German rule in Namibia, called South-West Africa back then, colonial officers studying eugenics developed ideas on racial purity, and their forces tried to exterminate two rebellious ethnic groups, the Herero and Nama, some of them in concentration camps.

“It will be described as genocide,” Ruprecht Polenz, Germany’s special envoy to the talks, said of a joint statement that the two governments are preparing. Negotiations, which began this year, are now also focusing on how Germany will compensate and apologize to Namibia.

The events in Namibia between 1904 and 1908 foreshadowed Nazi ideology and the Holocaust. Yet the genocide in this former colony remains little known in Germany, the rest of Africa and, to some extent, even in Namibia itself.

Throughout Namibia, monuments and cemeteries commemorating the German occupiers still outnumber those honoring the victims of genocide, a concrete reminder of the lasting imbalance of power.

“Some of us want to remove that cemetery so that we can put our own people there,” said Magic Urika, 26, who lives about an hour away from the cemetery here in Waterberg. “What they did was a terrible thing, killing our people, saying all the Herero should be eliminated.”

While Germany’s efforts to atone for crimes during World War II are well known, it took a century before the nation began taking steps to acknowledge that genocide happened in Namibia decades before the Holocaust.

About 80 percent of all Herero, who numbered as many as 100,000, are believed to have eventually died. Many perished after the battle of Waterberg: They were shot, hanged from trees or died in the desert, where the Germans sealed off watering holes and also prevented survivors from returning.

Even after the centennial of the Namibian genocide in 2004, Germany’s willingness to acknowledge it officially has proceeded so slowly — and, to critics, grudgingly — that it has set off accusations of racism in how the victims in Europe and Africa have been treated.

“The only difference is that the Jewish are white in color and we are black,” said Sam Kambazembi, 51, a traditional Herero chief whose great-grandparents fled during the genocide. “The Germans thought they could keep this issue under the carpet and the world would never know about it. But now we have made noise.”

But Mr. Kambazembi and other leaders are also quick to blame domestic politics for the delay in recognition.

After Germany lost its African colonies during World War I, Namibia slipped under the control of South Africa’s white-minority government until 1990, largely making talk of the genocide taboo.

After independence, Namibia’s liberation party — South West Africa People’s Organization, or Swapo — took over and governs to this day. But it is dominated by the country’s main ethnic group, the Ovambo, and critics contend that it showed little interest in bringing up the genocide against the Herero and Nama.

The Swapo-led government has also depended greatly on foreign aid, especially from its biggest donor, Germany.

For years, Mr. Kambazembi, a longtime member of Swapo, said he had unsuccessfully pressed fellow party leaders to emphasize the genocide issue.

“They make as if they listen, but then maybe when they go, they say, ‘That one is a Herero’ — I don’t know,” he said.

Namibia was Germany’s most prized African colony, the one that attracted thousands of German settlers, who grabbed land and cattle from local residents.

That drew fierce resistance from the Herero, traditional cattle herders, and the Nama. To quell it, Lothar von Trotha, a military commander who had earned a fierce reputation in Germany’s possessions in Asia and East Africa, was deployed to Namibia to lead the “Schutztruppe,” or protection force.

In 1904, he issued a warning that “every Herero, with or without rifles, with or without cattle, will be shot.” He said he would no longer take in women or children, but “drive them back to their people or have them shot.”

In 1905, Trotha issued a similar warning to the Nama, 10,000 of whom are estimated to have died as a result.

Stories of the deaths in the desert were passed down quietly in Herero families — usually around a fire at night.

Marama Kavita, 43, a Herero activist in Okakarara, a town about an hour from Waterberg, said he heard stories from his grandmother, who fled to what is now Botswana as a child during the genocide.

“Whenever I asked her about this, she always said a word or two, and then started crying,” he said. “If you would see an old lady like that crying, it also transferred to you that emotion, the hatred.”

Over the decades, Nama communities also kept alive the memories of the genocide in cultural festivals, handing down songs about the war and re-enacting wartime episodes, said Memory Biwa, a researcher at the University of Namibia who has compiled an oral history of the genocide.

In Hoachanas, a desolate Nama town in central Namibia, memories center on the concentration camp in Windhoek, the capital, where many of the residents’ ancestors were taken.

“My grandfather used to tell me how they were kept in a sort of kraal,” said Timotheus Dausab, 79, using the word for an enclosure for animals. “Some came back, but many died there. My grandfather used to tell me how cruel the Germans were. When he told us those stories, he would jump up and stand straight, very aggressively. His face would get angry.”

Petrus Kooper, Hoachanas’s traditional chief, said that the loss of lives, property and land during the genocide were still being felt in his community, where there are no paved roads and many people live in shacks.

“It is because of those wars that we live like this on this barren land,” he said.
In a potential obstacle to the talks, some Nama and Herero leaders want to negotiate directly with Germany for compensation. The Namibian government, they say, will spread future money from the Germans to unaffected ethnic groups or, worse, simply pocket it.

“We don’t trust our own government to negotiate on our behalf,” said Ester Muinjangue, chairwoman of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation.

Namibia’s special envoy to the genocide talks, Zed Ngavirue, said that Herero and Nama officials were already involved and would continue to be when Namibia receives compensation from the Germans.

“The method, the distribution will be done with the participation of the community themselves,” said Mr. Ngavirue, who is Herero.

But the two sides have yet to agree on a compensation amount, or what it should be called. Namibia speaks of reparations, but Germany rejects the term.

Reparations would amount to acknowledging guilt under the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide, the Germans say, adding that the convention cannot be applied retroactively to past genocides. That is also why Germany is refusing to negotiate directly with the Herero and the Nama, because discussions would fall under reparations, said Mr. Polenz, the German special envoy.

While Germany has directly paid victims of World War II in the past, compensating descendants in Namibia would subject Germany and other nations to an endless stream of new claims, Mr. Polenz said.

“Maybe even the United States would ask us now what to do with the Indians?” he said. “You cannot restart history. You cannot rewind time, not in your private life, not in public life.”

In Germany, the genocide in Namibia has been debated a couple of times in the past year in the Bundestag. But in the country at large, the genocide remains mostly unknown, unmentioned in German schools, just as it is still largely unmentioned in Namibia’s classrooms.

“There is still a colonial amnesia,” said Reinhart Koessler, a German historian and expert on Namibia.

In a visitors’ book at the Waterberg military cemetery, a German man from Oldenburg wrote in English: “It hurts me that this cynical memorial is left without an information about the genocide and with only a small notice of the killed Herero people.”