Thursday, October 30, 2014

1617. Why Contemporary Hunter-Gathers' Work Is Play

By Peter Grey,, April 29, 2014

Our word work has two meanings. It can mean any unpleasant activity; or it can mean any productive or useful activity, regardless of its pleasantness or unpleasantness. The first of these meanings is the opposite of play; the second is not. We use the same word for the two meanings, I suppose, because in our culture's history the two meanings have so often overlapped. Productive activity conducted by slaves, servants, and hired hands with no sense of choice about what they are doing indeed is work in both senses of the term.

To keep the two concepts distinct, so we can think about them separately, let's use the term toil for the first meaning (unpleasant activity) and work for the second. With this terminology, toil is the opposite of play, but work is not. Work can be toil, or it can be play, or it can lie anywhere on a continuum between the two.
In *last week's essay* I described the characteristics of work, and the attitudes toward it, that allow many people in today's society to experience their work as play. Now I want to expand on those ideas by describing hunter-gatherers' toil-less manner of sustaining themselves.

As I noted in the *introductory essay*, this whole series on "Play Makes Us Human" was inspired by my immersion in the research literature on hunter-gatherer band societies. Wherever they have been studied--in isolated parts of Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, and elsewhere--such societies have been found to be extraordinarily playful. Today, such societies are mostly destroyed, or in transition to something quite different, but I use the present tense (sometimes called the "anthropological present") to describe them, as remnants of them do still exist. In past essays I have shown *(a)* how hunter-gatherer children educate themselves through play; *(b)* how hunter-gatherers use play and humor to maintain a social and economic system founded on principles of sharing, cooperation, individual autonomy, and equality; and *(c)* how playfulness runs through hunter-gatherers' religious beliefs and practices in ways support their egalitarian approach to life.

In general, hunter-gatherers do not have a concept of toil. When they do have that concept, it derives apparently from their contact with outsiders. They may learn a word for toil to refer to the work of their neighboring farmers, miners, or road construction workers, but they do not apply it to their own work. Their own work is simply an extension of children's play. Children play at hunting, gathering, hut construction, tool making, meal preparations, defense against predators, birthing, infant care, healing, negotiation, and so on and so on; and gradually, as their play become increasingly skilled, the activities become productive. The play becomes work, but it does not cease being play. It may even become more fun than before, because the productive quality helps the whole band and is valued by all.

My reading about life in many different hunter-gatherer cultures has led me to conclude that their work is play for four main reasons: (1) It is varied and requires much skill and intelligence. (2) There is not too much of it. (3) It is done in a social context, with friends. And (4) (most significantly) it is, for any given person at any given time, optional. Let me expand on these, point by point.[1]

Hunter-Gatherer s' Work is Playful Because It is Varied and Requires Much Skill, Knowledge, and Intelligence.
Except for the general distinction between men as hunters and women as the primary gatherers (a distinction that holds for most but not all hunter-gatherer societies), hunter-gatherers do not specialize. Everyone is involved in most of the society's economic activities. Moreover, most of these activities require great skill, knowledge, and decision-making ability.

Anthropologists have marveled at the enormous skill and intelligence shown by hunter-gatherers in their hunting. The tools of hunting--such as bows and arrows, blowguns and darts, spears, or nets--must be crafted to perfection; and skill in using those tools effectively must be developed through years of play with them. Hunters must also learn the habits of the perhaps two to three hundred different species of mammals and birds that they hunt, which the children do in part through games of imitating the animals around them. They learn to identify each animal by its sounds and tracks as well as by its sight.

A book has been written on the thesis that the tracking of game by hunters marked the origin of what we today call science.[2] Hunters use the marks they see in the sand, mud, or foliage as clues, combined with their accumulated knowledge from past experience, to develop and test hypotheses about such matters as the size, sex, physical condition, speed of movement, and time of passage of the animal they are tracking. In describing the tracking abilities of the Ju/'hoansi hunter-gatherers of Africa's Kalahari Desert, Alf Wannenburgh wrote: "Everything is noticed, considered, and discussed. The kink in a trodden grass blade, the direction of the pull that broke a twig from a bush, the depth, size, shape, and disposition of the tracks themselves, all reveal information about the condition of the animal, the direction it is moving in, the rate of travel, and what its future movements are likely to be.”[3]

The gathering of vegetable foodstuffs likewise requires great knowledge and skill. Hunter-gatherers must know which of the countless varieties of roots, tubers, nuts, seeds, fruits, and greens in their area are edible and nutritious, when and where to find them, how to dig them (in the case of roots and tubers), how to extract the edible portions efficiently (in the case of grains, nuts, and certain plant fibers), and in some cases how to process them to make them edible or more nutritious than they otherwise would be. These abilities include physical skills, honed by years of practice, as well as the capacity to remember, use, add to, and modify an enormous store of culturally shared verbal knowledge.

In our society, too, work that is varied, that requires much skill and knowledge, and that involves much decision-making is enjoyed far more and considered more play-like than work that is simply routine. The assembly line is the enemy of playful work. Fortunately, with robots to do assembly work, the least playful sorts of jobs are largely behind us and we are moving toward a world in which most work, once again, has the potential to be play.

Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Playful Because There Isn't too Much of It.
Anthropologists have often pointed out that hunter-gatherers' work is skill-intensive but not labor-intensive. Research studies suggest that hunter-gatherers' work somewhere between 20 and 40 hours a week, on average, depending on just what you count as work. Moreover, they do not work according to the clock; they work when the time is ripe for the work to be done and when they feel like it. There is ample time in hunter-gatherers' lives for leisure activities, including games of many sorts, playful religious ceremonies, making and playing musical instruments, singing, dancing, traveling to other bands to visit friends and relatives, gossiping, and just lying around and relaxing. The life of the typical hunter-gatherer looks a lot like your life and mine when we are on vacation at a camp with friends.

It's amazing when you think about it. During the 10,000 years since the onset of agriculture and then industry, we have developed countless laborsaving devices, but we haven't reduced our labor. Today, most people spend more time working than did hunter-gatherers, and our work, on average, is less playful.

Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Playful Because It Is Done in a Social Context, with Friends.
We are a highly social species. We like to be with other people, especially with those we know well; and we like to do what our friends do. Hunter-gatherers live very social lives. Nearly all of their activity is public. Most of their work is done cooperatively, and even that which is done individually is done in social settings, with others around. And--because hunter-gatherers are highly mobile people, who move to another band if they don't like the people they are currently living with--their bands are truly friendship groups. In general, anything that we humans do with friends has more of a spirit of play than things we do alone or with collaborators who aren't really friends.

Men usually hunt in ways that involve teamwork; and women usually forage in groups. Concerning the latter, Wannenburgh wrote, of the Ju/'hoansi bands he studied, "In our experience all of the gathering expeditions were jolly events. With the [Ju/'hoansi's] gift of converting chores into social occasions, they often had something of the atmosphere of a picnic outing with children."[4] In a description of the means by which Batek people choose tasks and form work groups each day, Kirk Endicott wrote: "They may be entirely different groups from those of the previous day, for the Batek like variety both in their work and their companions.”[5]

Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Playful Because Each Person Can Choose When, How, and Whether to Do It.

And now I reach the most crucial ingredient of play--the sense of choice. Play, by definition is optional; it is something that we choose to do, not something that we have to do. How do hunter-gatherers maintain the sense of choice about the work they do?

Clearly, in an ultimate sense, hunter-gatherers' work is not optional. As a band, they must hunt, gather, make tools, build huts, and so on if they are going to survive. However, for any given person, on any given day, these for the most part are optional. As I noted in an earlier essay, hunter-gatherers everywhere maintain an extraordinary ethic of personal autonomy, to a degree that may seem radically extreme by our standards. They deliberately avoid telling each other how to behave, in work as in any other context. Each person is his or her own boss.

On any given day at a hunter-gatherer camp, a hunting or gathering party may form. The party is made up only of those who want to hunt or gather that day. That group decides collectively where they will go and how they will approach their task. Anyone made unhappy by the decision is free to form another party, or to hunt or gather alone, or to stay at camp all day, or to do anything at all that is not disruptive to others. There is no retribution for backing out. A person who doesn't hunt or gather will still receive his or her share of whatever food is brought back. By adopting this strategy, hunter-gatherers avoid being held back, in their foraging, by someone who is there only begrudgingly and has a bad attitude about it. And because they adopt this strategy, all members of the band can experience their hunting and gathering as play.

On any given day, a band member may join a foraging group, or visit friends in another camp, or just stay in camp and relax, depending on what he or she feels like doing. Such freedom does open up the possibility of free-riding by individuals who choose not to hunt or gather over an extended period of time, but such long-term shirking apparently happens rarely if at all. It is exciting to go out hunting or gathering with the others, and it would be boring to stay in camp day after day. The fact that on any given day the work is optional and self-directed keeps it in the realm of play. I'm sure that the perceived necessity to obtain food and accomplish other essential tasks influences people's decisions about what to do, but the sense of necessity does not dominate, on a day-to-day basis, and therefore does not destroy the sense of play.

The genius of hunter-gatherer societies, from my perspective, lies in their abilities to accomplish the tasks that must be accomplished while maximizing each person's experience of free choice, which is essential to the spirit of play. They manage to accomplish that through their extraordinary willingness to share everything, which removes any immediate link between work and the receipt of life's necessities. Even the most industrious and successful hunters and gatherers receive no more of the food brought back to camp on a given day than does anyone else in the band.

What a different attitude they have than we! To us it seems almost sinful that someone who does less work than others should receive as much of the bounties as anyone else. But that is because we think of work as toil. If produce requires toil, then those who toil the most should get the most. If someone is lazy and doesn't toil, they should not get the rewards. That's our concept of justice, and it's a reasonable one. But now, what if we thought of work as play, something that we want to do just because it's fun. With that attitude, why should those who get the most intrinsic rewards from play--because they enjoy it so much, and are so skilled at it, and therefore participate in it the most--also reap the most extrinsic rewards from it?

Economists and behavioral psychologists alike tend to think of life as a matter of give-and-take, cost-and-benefit, effort-and-reward. From this view, work is what you do for a benefit. If someone gets the benefit without having done the work, something is wrong. Economists and behavioral psychologists often talk of this as if it is essential human nature. But they are wrong. As far as we can tell, hunter-gatherers were living as they do now--without a concept of reward for work done--for hundreds of thousands of years before the advent of agriculture. They did not conceive of life in terms of cost and benefit. They saw it, instead, as a playful adventure. You do things because they are fun, and you share the bounty with everyone you know, regardless of what those people have been doing. Precisely because of that attitude, people willingly and joyfully did the work that needed to be done, all as part of play.

One way of thinking about all this involves the concept of trust. Hunter-gatherers simply trust that, as long as work is play and as long as people are treated well and are truly free to make their own decisions, the great majority of people will quite gladly contribute to the band in the ways they can.

I'm not suggesting that we can import the hunter-gather approach whole cloth into our current culture. I'm sure that can't be done. But there are areas where this way of thinking would make life more fun for all of us. Think about it. When I approach my work with others as play I don't mind doing more than the others, for no more extrinsic rewards than they get. The rewards of play lie in the doing, not in the end.

[1] Documentation for the points made in the following paragraphs can be found in my article, *"Play as the foundation for hunter-gatherer social existence," American Journal of Play, 1, 476-522, 2009.* In these paragraphs I have used some of the same wording that I used in that article.
[2] Louis Liebenberg, The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science (1990).
[3] Alf Wannenburgh, The Bushmen (1979), p 41.
[4] Wannenburgh, Bushmen, p 30.Hu

[5] Kirk Endicott, Batek Negrito Religion (1979), p 16.

1616. Ebola and the Vast Viral Universe

By Natalie Angier, The New York Times, October 29, 2014

Advances in microscopy have allowed scientists like Sriram Subramaniam and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute to look at the workings of tiny viruses. In this case, microscopy was used to illustrate the complex process in which human cells infected with HIV-1, green and blue, are linked to uninfected cells. Photo:  Illustration by Donald Bliss/N.I.H, from The Journal of Virology/American Society for Microbiology.

Behind the hellish Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa lies an agent that fittingly embodies the mad contradictions of a nightmare. It is alive yet dead, simple yet complex, mindless yet prophetic, seemingly able to anticipate our every move.

For scientists who study the evolution and behavior of viruses, the Ebola pathogen is performing true to its vast, ancient and staggeringly diverse kind. By all evidence, researchers say, viruses have been parasitizing living cells since the first cells arose on earth nearly four billion years ago.

Some researchers go so far as to suggest that viruses predate their hosts. That they essentially invented cells as a reliable and renewable resource they could then exploit for the sake of making new viral particles.

It was the primordial viral “collective,” said Luis P. Villarreal, former director of the Center for Virus Research at the University of California, Irvine, “that originated the capacity for life to be self-sustaining.”

“Viruses are not just these threatening or annoying parasitic agents,” he added. “They’re the creative front of biology, where things get figured out, and they always have been.”

Researchers are deeply impressed by the depth and breadth of the viral universe, or virome. Viruses have managed to infiltrate the cells of every life form known to science. They infect animals, plants, bacteria, slime mold, even larger viruses. They replicate in their host cells so prodigiously and stream out into their surroundings so continuously that if you collected all the viral flotsam afloat in the world’s oceans, the combined tonnage would outweigh that of all the blue whales.

Not that viruses want to float freely. As so-called obligate parasites entirely dependent on host cells to replicate their tiny genomes and fabricate their protein packages newborn viruses, or virions, must find their way to fresh hosts or they will quickly fall apart, especially when exposed to sun, air or salt.

“Drying out is a death knell for viral particles,” said Lynn W. Enquist, a virologist at Princeton.

How long shed virions can persist if kept moist and unbuffeted — for example, in soil or in body excretions like blood or vomit — is not always clear but may be up to a week or two. That is why the sheets and clothing of Ebola patients must be treated as hazardous waste and surfaces hosed down with bleach.

Viruses are masters at making their way from host to host and cell to cell, using every possible channel. Whenever biologists discover a new way that body cells communicate with one another, sure enough, there’s a virus already tapping into exactly that circuit in its search for new meat.

Reporting recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Karla Kirkegaard, a professor of microbiology and genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine, and her colleagues described a kind of “unconventional secretion” pathway based on so-called autophagy, or self-eating, in which cells digest small parts of themselves and release the pieces into their surroundings as signaling molecules targeted at other cells — telling them, for example, that it’s time for a new round of tissue growth.

The researchers determined that the poliovirus can exploit the autophagy conduit to cunning effect. Whereas it was long believed that new polio particles could exit their natal cell only by bursting it open and then seeking new cells to infect, the researchers found that the virions could piggyback to freedom along the autophagy pathway.

In that way, the virus could expand its infectious empire without destroying perfectly good viral factories en route. The researchers suspect that other so-called naked or nonenveloped viruses (like the cold virus and the enteroviruses that have lately plagued children in this country and Asia) could likewise spread through unconventional secretion pathways.

For their part, viruses like Ebola have figured out how to slip in and out of cells without kicking up a fuss by cloaking themselves in a layer of greasy lipids stolen from the host cell membrane, rather as you might foist a pill down a pet’s throat by smearing it in butter.

According to Eric O. Freed, the head of the virus-cell interaction section at the National Cancer Institute, several recent technological breakthroughs have revolutionized the study of viruses.

Advances in electron microscopy and super-resolved fluorescence microscopy — the subject of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry — allow scientists to track the movement of viral particles in and between cells, and to explore the fine atomic structure of a virus embraced by an antibody, or a virus clasped onto the protein lock of a cell.

Through ultrafast gene sequencing and targeted gene silencing techniques, researchers have identified genes critical to viral infection and drug resistance. “We’ve discovered viruses we didn’t even know existed,” Dr. Freed said. And that could prove important to detecting the emergence of a new lethal strain.

Gene sequencing has also allowed researchers to trace the deep background of viruses, which, at an average of a few billionths of an inch across, are far too minuscule to fossilize. In fact, viruses were first identified in the 19th century by size, as infectious agents able to pass through filters that trapped all bacteria.

Through genomic analysis, researchers have identified ancient viral codes embedded in the DNA of virtually every phyletic lineage. The unmistakable mark of a viral code? Instructions for making the capsid, the virus’s protective protein shell, which surrounds its genetic core and lends the viral particle its infectious power.

“It turns out there are not many ways to make the pieces that will snap together into an effective package,” said Dr. Enquist, of Princeton. “It’s an event that may have occurred only once or twice” in evolutionary history.

Viruses are also notable for what they lack. They have no ribosomes, the cellular components that fabricate the proteins that do all the work of keeping cells alive.

Instead, viruses carry instructions for co-opting the ribosomes of their host, and repurposing them to the job of churning out capsid and other viral proteins. Other host components are enlisted to help copy the instructions for building new viruses, in the form of DNA or RNA, and to install those concise nucleic texts in the newly constructed capsids.

“Viruses are almost miraculously devious,” Dr. Freed said. “They’re just bundles of protein and nucleic acid, and they’re able to get into cells and run the show.”

“On the one hand, they’re quite simple,” Dr. Enquist said. “On the other hand, they may be the most highly evolved form of genetic information on the planet.”

Viruses also work tirelessly to evade the immune system that seeks to destroy them. One of the deadliest features of the Ebola virus is its capacity to cripple the body’s first line of defense against a new pathogen, by blocking the release of interferon.

“That gives the virus a big advantage to grow and spread,” said Christopher F. Basler, a professor of microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

At the same time, said Aftab Ansari of Emory University School of Medicine, the virus disables the body’s coagulation system, leading to uncontrolled bleeding. By the time the body can rally its second line of defense, the adaptive immune system, it is often too late.

Yet the real lethality of Ebola, Dr. Ansari said, stems from a case of mistaken location, a zoonotic jump from wild animal to human being. The normal host for Ebola virus is the fruit bat, in which the virus replicates at a moderate pace without killing or noticeably sickening the bat.

“A perfect parasite is able to replicate and not kill its host,” Dr. Ansari said. “The Ebola virus is the perfect parasite for a bat.”

1615. Deadly Fungal Disease Threatening Salamanders May Spread Through Pet Trade

By James Gorman, The New York Times, October 30, 2014

A fire salamander showing signs of fungal infection through skin lesions. A study suggests that the fungus, called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, may have reached Europe through the pet trade from Asia. Photo: Frank Pasmans/Ghent University.

An emerging infection similar to one that has caused the extinction of hundreds of frog and toad species around the world is now killing salamanders in Europe and could easily spread to the United States, with disastrous effects, scientists reported Thursday.
Writing in the journal Science, an international team of 27 researchers blamed the spread of the disease on “globalization and a lack of biosecurity” and said the importation of the fire-bellied newt in the pet trade with Asia was the likely cause.
The lead researcher, An Martel of Ghent University in Belgium, said in an interview that both Europe and the United States needed to start screening amphibians in the pet trade. “When animals are traded they should be screened,” Dr. Martel said. “It should involve the world.”

Other scientists agreed. “We need to pay attention to this paper,” said Vance T. Vredenburg of San Francisco State University, one of the scientists who has sounded the alarm about the extinction of hundreds of frog and toad species worldwide over the last four decades.

“We need to think about biosecurity not just in terms of humans and food that we eat and crops that we grow,” he said. “We need to think about functioning ecosystems.”
Dr. Vredenburg is a co-author of a 2008 paper that described the disappearance of frog species as a prime example of what some scientists call the sixth extinction, a mass death of species going on now and caused by humans.

In the case of the frog disappearances, the culprit, a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, was not identified until decades after the extinctions had begun. Where it originated is still not known.

The effects of that fungus, Dr. Vredenburg said, represent “the worst case in recorded history of a single pathogen affecting vertebrates,” causing an “extinction rate 40,000 times higher than in the last 350 million years for amphibians.”

The fungus killing salamanders and newts, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, is in the same genus, and also kills animals by infecting the skin. But this time, said Dr. Vredenburg, “We found it early enough to have a chance. The Titanic knows there’s an iceberg out there.”

The United States, as yet untouched by the infection, has the greatest biodiversity of salamanders in the world, and many of the species are already threatened or endangered. The animals are seldom noticed, but are an integral part of forest and aquatic ecosystems, as predators and prey.

One recent study suggested that their decline could affect climate change because the proliferation of some of the creatures they eat could cause greater release of carbon into the atmosphere.

Dr. Martel and other scientists first identified the fungus a year ago, and described its role in the deaths of fire salamanders in Europe. In the new paper, they investigated its origin, presence around the world and the susceptibility of different species to it.
In the lab, the researchers experimentally infected 44 species of salamanders and newts (salamanders live on land, newts in the water). Forty-one, they wrote, “rapidly died.” It did not affect frogs and toads.

Several Asian species were resistant, and molecular biology studies of DNA suggested that there may be a reservoir of the fungus in Asian newts popular in the aquarium trade.

The study found evidence of the fungus in amphibians in Vietnam, Thailand and Japan, where the animals were not affected, and in the Netherlands and Belgium, where it killed numerous populations. Dr. Martel identified the shipping of live newts for the aquarium trade as the way the fungus spread.

James Collins, at Arizona State University, who has studied the spread of fungal disease in frogs, said that further study was needed to prove that the pet trade was the culprit in the disease’s spread, since it was possible that the fungus was wind-borne, or spread by migrating birds.

But, Dr. Collins said, it was clear that the fungus and the lack of screening in the shipping of live animals posed a major threat to salamanders in the United States and Europe. Disease screening exists for threats to agriculture, he said, but not for animals in the pet or aquarium trade.

“When something like Ebola emerges,” he said, international and federal agencies like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can act. “Something like that is needed,” he said.

Karen R. Lips at the University of Maryland, one of the co-authors of the Science paper, met Thursday with Fish and Wildlife Officials to talk about the new fungus. She said that there were now bills in Congress that could enable the Fish and Wildlife Service to screen for infected wildlife.

“If Congress wanted to, they could take action,” she said.

1614. Chimpanzees Plan Ahead for a Good Breakfast (Do You?)

By Science Daily, October 28, 2014

This young male chimp climbing a fig tree risked travel in the dark when predators were active to obtain the more desired, less abundant figs for breakfast. Photo: Karline R. L. Janmaat/Max Planck Institute

New research by the University of California, Davis, shows that chimpanzees plan ahead, and sometimes take dangerous risks, to get to the best breakfast buffet early.

The study co-authored by Leo Polansky, an associate researcher in the UC Davis anthropology department, reveals that chimpanzees will find a place to sleep en route to breakfast sites and risk travel in the dark when predators are active to obtain more desired, less abundant fruits such as figs. The study is being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"As humans we are familiar with the race against birds for our cherries, or against squirrels for our walnuts and pecans," Polansky said, "but this race is carried out amongst competitors of all kinds of species in locations all over the world.”

The study provides evidence that chimpanzees flexibly plan their breakfast time, type and location after weighing multiple disparate pieces of information.

"Being able to reveal the role of environmental complexity in shaping cognitive-based behavior is especially exciting," Polansky said. "Long-term, detailed information from the field can reveal the value of high levels of cognition and behavioral flexibility for efficiently obtaining critical food resources in complex environments.”

Researchers recorded when and where five adult female chimpanzees spent the night and acquired food for 275 days during three fruit-scarce periods. The research took place in the Taï National Park in Côte d'Ivoire, led by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where Polansky was a postdoctoral researcher. His research interests are in both animal behavior and plant phenology.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
end story_source

Journal Reference:

1 K. R. L. Janmaat, L. Polansky, S. D. Ban, C. Boesch. Wild chimpanzees plan their breakfast time, type, and location. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1407524111

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

1613. Israel as Apartheid: A Personal Story

By Rula Jebreal, The New York Times, October 27, 2014
Palestinian Israeli's demand equality
My mother, Zakia, was so proud that my sister and I spoke better Hebrew than Arabic. Osman, my father, believed that by achieving the highest levels of education, we would one day be treated as equal in our country, Israel. He sincerely believed that Palestinians capable of articulating their narrative would win the hearts and minds of Israeli Jews.

My parents believed in the promise of a democracy that transcends ethnicity. I still retain that dream, but it is tested every time I go home. I am a citizen of Israel, married to an American Jew, yet I am not welcome in Israel. For I am Palestinian.

During a recent visit, my husband breezed through security at Ben-Gurion airport, but our teenage daughter and I — who both have dual citizenship of Israel and Italy — were strip-searched. I’m inured to the procedure: I have to endure it almost every time I enter and leave the country. But our daughter, age 17, sobbed with chagrin. “This place breeds hate everywhere!” she cried.

On the same trip, I attempted to renew her Israeli passport. “She is not Jewish,” an official told me, “and therefore we are not sure she is entitled to citizenship.”
For Israeli Palestinians — and we make up 20 percent of the population — these are ordinary humiliations. But I wonder what my parents, both now dead, would have made of the graffiti that recently appeared on the walls of our family home in Haifa, a mixed city in the north of Israel.

“Death to Arabs,” it read.

During the recent war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, my cousin was walking on the beach near her home, also in Haifa. She overheard a group of Israeli sunbathers casually discussing how the Israeli Army should deal with the residents of Gaza — “Just kill them all,” she heard one say.

“I’ve never felt so scared in my 32 years,” she told me. “I don’t want them to know I’m Palestinian.”

Israel is increasingly becoming a project of ethno-religious purity and exclusion. Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties occupy 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, and the coalition government includes members of Jewish Home, a religious Zionist party, and Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing nationalist party. Central to their politics is a program of discriminatory legislation, designed to curtail the civil rights of Palestinian Israeli citizens.

Chief among the more than 50 discriminatory Israeli laws documented by Adalah, the Haifa-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is the Law of Return, which automatically guarantees Israeli citizenship for every Jew regardless of birthplace. Often, they are shepherded into settlements in the West Bank (illegal under international law), where they receive government benefits. Palestinian Israeli citizens, meanwhile, are subject to a ban on family reunification: If they marry a fellow Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza, they are prohibited from living in Israel under the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law.

In September, Israel’s Supreme Court dismissed a petition challenging the Admissions Committees Law, which allows communities to reject housing applicants based on “cultural and social suitability” — a legal pretext to deny residency to non-Jews. In practice, even before the law was passed, it was virtually impossible for a Palestinian to buy or rent a home in any majority-Jewish city.
Further ethnic separation is maintained by the education system. Aside from a few mixed schools, most educational institutions in Israel are divided into Arab and Jewish ones. According to Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a Hebrew University professor of sociology who has produced the most comprehensive survey of Israeli public school curriculums, not one positive reference to Palestinians exists in Israeli high school textbooks. Palestinians are described as either “Arab farmers with no nationality” or fearsome “terrorists,” as Professor Peled-Elhanan documented in her book “Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education.”

Israel’s system of segregation has led to a situation where, according to a recent poll, 42 percent of Jews say they have never met a Palestinian.

Historically, ultra-Orthodox Jews did not serve in the armed forces. Today, they do — and serve in every capacity, including in the most important elite Israeli army units, such as the Sayeret Matkal special forces and Unit 8200, whose responsibilities include gathering intelligence on any Palestinian they deem a “security threat.”

Unlike every former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the F.B.I., Yoram Cohen, who today heads the agency, is a religious Jew. That change is typical of Israeli society. The greater integration of ultra-Orthodox Jews clearly offers benefits to Jewish Israelis, but for Palestinian Israeli citizens, it has meant a new, religiously inspired racism, on top of the old secular discrimination.

National leaders proudly promote hate policies. Israel’s foreign minister and the leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, has championed a call to boycott the businesses of Palestinian citizens of Israel and, ominously, has even sought to make the “transfer” of Palestinians legal. Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Mr. Lieberman — apparently without challenging him on such reprehensible views.

This is the atmosphere in which Israel’s Palestinians live. And there is no redress available to us elsewhere. Our rights and welfare certainly cannot be represented by the Palestinian Authority, whose jurisdiction is limited to partial control of the population of the West Bank. Its president, Mahmoud Abbas, cannot negotiate for us because we are Israeli citizens. Israel, however, prefers not to think of us as such, and thus resorts to all manner of petty aggressions to prove it, like trying to deny my daughter a new passport.

Israel is quick to point out efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Yet what truly undermines Israel’s international standing is not its critics, but Israel’s abysmal treatment of its own citizens who are Palestinian. It is little different than other countries that have systematically discriminated against and segregated a whole class of its people based on race, religion and ethnicity.

While Israel (like the United States) claims to abhor racism and human rights violations elsewhere, the country’s political leadership is actively enacting laws that ensure a pervasive institutionalized system of discrimination. What Israel needs, conversely, is a civil rights movement.

Rula Jebreal is a journalist, foreign policy analyst and author.

Monday, October 27, 2014

1612. Cuba Calling: What This Small Island Can Teach the World About Disease Control

By Conner Gorry, The Guardian, October 23, 2014
Moral medicine, the Cuban way

Guatemala, Pakistan, Indonesia, Haiti. Four different nations that share a common experience: in the past decade, they were all struck by natural disasters which overwhelmed their under-staffed and under-funded public health systems. Into the rubble, flooding, and chaos of these distinct cultures and contexts, Cuba dispatched a specialised disaster and epidemic control team to support local health providers. It was a story of unprecedented medical solidarity by a developing country which few media outlets picked up – until now.

The Henry Reeve Brigade, as it’s known, was established in 2005 by more than 1,500 Cuban health professionals trained in disaster medicine and infectious disease containment; built on 40 years of medical aid experience, the volunteer team was outfitted with essential medicines and equipment and prepared to deploy to US regions ravaged by Hurricane Katrina (the offer was rejected by the Bush administration). Today, Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade is the largest medical team on the ground in west Africa battling Ebola.

The small island nation has pledged 461 doctors and nurses to provide care in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the largest single-country offer of healthcare workers to date. While United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decried the pallid aid commitment from around the globe calling for a 20-fold resource mobilisation and at least a 20-fold surge in assistance Cuba already had 165 of these specially-trained healthcare workers on the ground in Sierra Leone. Each of these volunteers, chosen from a pool of 15,000 candidates who stepped forward to serve in west Africa, has extensive disaster response experience.

Nevertheless, preparation for this mission required additional, rigorous training at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine with biosecurity experts from the United States and the Pan American Health Organisation. This rapid mobilisation of sorely-needed health professionals begs the question: how can a poor developing country spare qualified, experienced doctors and nurses?

By pursuing a robust medical education strategy, coupled with a preventive, community-based approach, Cuba, a country of just 11.2 million inhabitants, has achieved a health picture on par with the world’s most developed nations. This didn’t happen overnight. Rather, Cuba’s admirable health report card results from decades of honing a strategy designed specifically for a resource-scarce setting.

By locating primary care doctors in neighbourhoods and emphasising disease prevention, the health system – which is universal and free at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels – makes care accessible and keeps people as healthy as possible, as long as possible, saving resources for more expensive treatments and interventions in the process.

But prevention and health promotion by community-based healthcare workers are only part of the story. Cuba’s policies and practices, both at home and abroad (currently more than 50,000 Cuban health professionals are serving in 66 countries) are built on several principles proven effective in resource-scarce settings.

First, coordinating health policies at the local, regional, and national levels is essential; this is particularly important where infectious diseases are concerned since uniform protocols are integral to containment. 

Next, health initiatives must be cross-sectoral and based on integrated messages and actions. A fragmented, uncoordinated response by and among different agencies can prove dangerous and even deadly. This was tragically illustrated by the death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas and the US Centers for Disease Control allowing a nurse who has Ebola to travel on a commercial flight

Finally, infectious disease outbreaks must be addressed quickly – easier said than done in poor settings, where public health systems are already strained or collapsing already.
The Ebola outbreak snaps the need for Cuba’s approach into sharp relief: only a coordinated response, provided by well-trained and - equipped primary healthcare professionals will contain this – and future – epidemics. Indeed, policymakers such as World Health Organisation’s Margaret Chan and US secretary of state John Kerry have lauded the Cuban response, underscoring the importance of collaboration as the only solution to this global health crisis. 

Forging this solution, however, requires harnessing the political will across borders and agencies to marshal resources and know-how. Havana took up the challenge by hosting a special Summit on Ebola with its regional partners and global health authorities on 20 October. Noticeably absent were US health representatives; if we’re to construct a comprehensive, integrated, and effective global response, all resources and experiences must be coordinated and brought to bear, regardless of political differences. Anything less and Ebola wins.

Conner Gorry is senior editor of Medicc Review. Follow @ConnerGo on Twitter. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

1611. Scientists Say Global Warming Has Been "Hugely Underestimated"

By Dahr Jamail, Truthout, October 20, 2014

High altitude air pollution
As we look across the globe this month, the signs of a continued escalation of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continue to increase, alongside a drumbeat of fresh scientific studies confirming their connection to the ongoing human geo-engineering project of emitting carbon dioxide at ever-increasing rates into the atmosphere.
A major study recently published in New Scientist found that "scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate," and said that ACD is "worse than we thought" because it is happening "faster than we realized."

As has become predictable now, as evidence of increasing ACD continues to mount, denial and corporate exploitation are accelerating right along with it.

The famed Northwest Passage is now being exploited by luxury cruise companies. Given the ongoing melting of the Arctic ice cap, a company recently announced a 900-mile, 32-day luxury cruise there, with fares starting at $20,000, so people can luxuriate while viewing the demise of the planetary ecosystem.

This, while even mainstream scientists now no longer view ACD in the future tense, but as a reality that is already well underway and severely impacting the planet.

It is good that even the more conservative scientists have come aboard the reality train, because a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-led (NOAA) study published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has provided yet more evidence linking ACD with extreme heat events.

To provide perspective on how far along we are regarding runaway ACD, another recent study shows that the planet's wildlife population is less than half the size it was four decades ago. The culprits are both ACD and unsustainable human consumption, coupling to destroy habitats faster than previously thought, as biodiversity loss has now reached "critical levels," according to the report. More than half of the vertebrate population on the planet has been annihilated in just four decades.

Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.

Meanwhile, the situation only continues to grow grimmer.

NASA announced that this August was the hottest globally since records began in 1880. Days later, NOAA confirmed this and added that 2014 is on track to become the hottest year on record.

Shortly thereafter, NASA announced that this September was the hottest since 1880.
And emissions only continue to increase.

Global greenhouse gas emissions rose this last year to record levels, increasing 2.3 percent.
The effects of all these developments are especially evident in the Arctic, where sea ice coverage reached its annual minimum on September 17, continuing a trend of below-average years. According to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice coverage this year is the sixth lowest recorded since 1978.

Equally disconcerting and symptomatic of the aforementioned, 35,000 walruses crowded onto land near the Northwest Alaska village of Point Lay late last month, when they couldn't find their preferred resting grounds of summer sea ice.

The European Space Agency announced that, due to billions of tons of ice loss, a dip in the gravity field over the Western Antarctic region has occurred, making even gravity itself the latest casualty of ACD.

A recent analysis of 56 studies on ACD-related health problems revealed that increasing global temperatures and extreme weather events will continue to deleteriously impact human health on a global scale.

On a micro-scale, another report showed how Minnesota's warming (and increasingly wetter) climate is escalating the risk of new diseases in the area, according to the Minnesota Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.

Further north, warming temperatures continue to disrupt the fragile ecological balance in the Canadian Arctic, which is warming faster than most of the rest of the planet. Canada's minister for natural resources provided a new report detailing the impact ACD is having on that country's forests, which are being impacted "faster than the global average."
In neighboring Alaska, summer heat and invasive insects are taking a similar toll on interior Alaska birch trees, according to experts there.

Wildlife populations continue to struggle to adapt to the dramatic changes wrought by ACD. In California, one of the largest populations of state-protected Western pond turtles in the southern part of that state is struggling to survive as its habitat, a natural two-mile long lake, has become a smelly, severely alkaline death trap due to drought and fires there.

Of course it isn't just wildlife that is struggling to adapt and cope with ACD.

Members of the Swinomish tribe, located north of Seattle, were recently awarded a large grant from the federal government in order to deal with rising seas and flooding, as they live near the mouth of the Skagit River.

The extremes of water, flooding and drought continue to persist and escalate as ACD continues.

In California, where record-breaking drought is becoming a way of life for much of the state, at least 14 communities are on the brink of waterlessness and are trucking in water while trying to find a solution.

In East Porterville, a small rural community in Tulare County, California, the situation has become so desperate that residents are no longer able to flush toilets, fill a glass with water or wash their hands without using bottled water.

Dairy farmers in that state are struggling to survive the drought, as the cost for feed and water is being driven up by the lack of water.

The US Energy Information Administration announced that California's ability to produce electricity from hydroelectric dams is being significantly hampered by the drought, which covers 100 percent of the state now. This is because the reservoirs, which create power when the water in them is released into turbines, are drying up, thus providing less pressure to spin the turbines. The first six months of this year have seen the state's hydropower generation decrease by half.

And it's not just California that is experiencing drought. The better part of the entire Western Hemisphere has experienced some form of drought in recent years, according to another recent report published in the journal Science which states: "A dry spell has killed cattle and wiped out crops in Central America, parts of Colombia have seen rioting over scarce water, and southern Brazil is facing its worst dry spell in 50 years."

Across the Atlantic, at a recent international conference that was held to discuss the growing global water crisis, experts warned that Britain must prepare for the "worst droughts in modern times."

In Iran, worshippers have sought divine intervention and they're being urged to literally pray for rain.

An excellent report by National Geographic asked a critical question: What will happen to the American West, which has been built upon the back of snowmelt, when the snows fail?
On the other end of the water spectrum - melting and flooding - we continue to see global evidence of the impact of ACD. The aforementioned recent satellite observations from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed in October that the Arctic ice cap has melted so much that open water is now a mere 350 miles from the North Pole, which is the shortest distance ever recorded, according to scientists.

This coincides with predictions from leading British and American polar researchers that Truthout has previously interviewed who predict the ice cap will melt completely during the summer as early as next year.

A recent report by the Union for Concerned Scientists warned that several major US cities will see at least 10 times more coastal flooding by 2045, in addition to at least 11 inches of sea level rise by the same year.

In Delaware, they aren't waiting. There, millions of dollars have been spent to pump sand in to build up dunes along the beaches in order to create a buffer from future storms and sea level rise.

Down in Miami, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to install new storm pumps and storm drains in order to combat sea level rise at Miami Beach. Near the Cape Canaveral area, a low-lying barrier island is getting even lower as sea levels continue to rise, so communities there are investigating ways to keep the water at bay, or to plan a retreat.
Edmonton, Canada, is pushing forward with a $2.4 billion bill for flood prevention, as that city is seeing increasingly severe downpours.

Southern France experienced a deluge of 10 inches of rain in just three hours, which amounted to half a year's worth of rain in one day in Montpellier.

In Norway, massive amounts of melt-water from streams and blue ice on mountains indicated that the ice fields and glaciers on central Norway's highest peaks were in full retreat, and exposed rock and ice that had not been seen for 6,000 years. On that note, recent studies also show that sea-level rise over the last century (20 centimeters) has been unmatched in 6,000 years.

Recent reports indicate that the Gulf of Alaska has become unusually warm, warmer in fact than since researchers began tracking surface water temperatures in the 1980s, according to NOAA.

In the Atlantic, lobsters off the coast of southern New England are moving up into Canada due to warming waters. The exotic lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, is also heading north up the Atlantic coast, as warming waters are changing ocean habitats.

In Greenland, "dark" snow atop the ice sheet is now being called a "positive feedback loop" by an expert there, as the increasing trend is reducing the Arctic's ability to reflect sunlight, further contributing to runaway ACD.

Recent analysis indicates that scientists could have underestimated the size of the heat sink across the upper ocean, according to a recent report. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that the upper 700 meters of the ocean have been warming 24 to 55 percent faster since 1970 than previously thought. This means that the pace and scale of planetary warming is much faster than previously believed.

Lastly in this section, and possibly the most distressing, a recent report revealed that fish are failing to adapt to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the oceans. This means that within just a few generations of fish, a mass die-off could occur due to lack of adaptation. More carbon dioxide in the oceans is adversely changing the behavior of fish through generations, which means that marine species may never fully adapt to their changing environment.

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that tornado activity in "Tornado Alley" in the Midwestern United States is peaking two weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago, and ACD is the culprit.

Erratic jet stream behavior is now believed to be caused by the rapid retreating of Arctic sea ice as a result of ACD. The increasingly unpredictable jet stream is being blamed for more frequent, prolonged spells of extreme weather in Europe, North America and Asia. This includes more and longer freezing temperatures, storms and heat waves.

In October, California found itself in yet another heat wave, with record-breaking temperatures reported in several cities and hotter-than-usual temperatures across the state. The National Weather Service put the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego under a heat advisory and issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cancelled outside activities and sports for the better part of a week due to the extreme heat, which was the second time this school year that LAUSD has had to cancel activities because of high temperatures.

On one day, downtown Los Angeles reached 92 degrees by noon, whereas the average October temperature for that city is 79 degrees. Several cities in Southern California broke record temperatures. Oxnard reached 98 degrees, breaking an almost 70-year-old record.

As wildfires continued to burn across parts of drought-stricken California, a record-breaking amount of fire retardant was used (203,000 gallons in one day alone) while combatting a massive wildfire in Northern California. The fire was burning so hotly and expanding so explosively, due to the prolonged drought, that firefighters found that normal amounts of retardant weren't stopping the flames.

It is now well known that fire season in California, as well as across all the other Western US states, is extending due to ACD.

Denial and Reality
The person who runs the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market lobbying group that opposes policies to mitigate ACD, is not sure whether humans actually cause ACD, according to an interview recently published in National Journal.

When asked specifically whether or not she thought human carbon emissions are causing climate change, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said, "I don’t know the science on that."

The denial-based antics of Gov. Chris Christie are ongoing as well. He recently said that a regional cap-and-trade program from which his state of New Jersey withdrew in 2011 was "a completely useless plan" and added that he "would not think of rejoining it."

Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, is taking a "soft denial" approach by admitting that ACD is real, while saying the extent to which humans have a role is still in "doubt."

The denial project's success is evidenced by large numbers of Americans racing to buy and develop seashore properties in areas well known to be at high-risk for rising seas and increasingly intense storms. Mike Huckabee, now apparently a chronic presidential candidate, is among those racing to build on shores that will be submerged in the not-so-distant future.

It's no coincidence that merely 3 percent of current Congressional Republicans have even gone on record to accept the fact that climate disruption is anthropogenic, according to PolitiFact, which also found that there is a grand total of eight Republican non-deniers, total, in the House and Senate.

Another interesting turn of events shows companies like GE and Google operating as large companies do in advance of elections - funding both sides to safeguard their interests. In this case, these companies, along with others, are making campaign contributions to Congressional ACD-deniers - while simultaneously professing to be pro-sustainability companies.

Meanwhile the media blitz continues, as the Rupert Murdoch-owned and ACD-denying Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled "Climate Science Is Not Settled," which was chock full of the usual ACD-denier talking points. The article provides us with a prime example of how the doubt narrative is consistently slipped in as a meme: "Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future."

In stark contrast to the "doubters" and "deniers," the Pentagon recently announced that ACD poses an "immediate risk" to national security, according to the Department of Defense's 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.

Shaun Donovan, the new US director of the Office of Management and Budget, used his first speech to talk about the dangers of inaction on climate change, in regards to the federal budget. "From where I sit, climate action is a must do; climate inaction is a can't do; and climate denial scores - and I don't mean scoring points on the board," he said. "I mean that it scores in the budget. Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently admitted that funding ALEC was a "mistake," and said that the group's spreading of disinformation and lies about ACD was "making the world a much worse place." During an NPR interview, Schmidt said, "Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren. . . . And so we should not be aligned with such people - they're just, they're just literally lying."

The Endangered Species Coalition recently released a list of things people should take their children to go see outdoors, because if they wait too long, their kids might not get a chance to see them before they become extinct. The list includes monarch butterflies, polar bears, great white sharks, white bark pine trees and Snake River sockeye salmon.

A study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that switching to natural gas will not reduce carbon emissions very much, and could in fact increase them slightly, due to the fact that it would discourage the use of carbon-free renewable energy sources. This is significant because there are many lawmakers who are ACD "realists," including President Obama, who advocate that natural gas is a "solution" to ACD.

A remarkable electronic dashboard created by The Guardian shows some of the key indicators of planetary health, where you can view updated snapshots of the impacts your country, as well as humans, are having on the environment.

Lastly, possibly the most disturbing reality check of all comes from MIT's 2014 Climate and Energy Outlook. The recently released report revealed that global energy use and carbon dioxide emissions will likely double by 2100.