Dolphin sexuality has been in the news for the past week or two, because of the release of a new BBC documentary, The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins. It’s a fascinating story of 1960s intellectual icons Gregory Bateson and John Lilly and their research on dolphins. From The Independent UK review:
During the 1960s, Lilly and his collaborators used funding from Nasa to create “Dolphin House” in the American Virgin Islands, essentially a flooded beach-side villa where the young research assistant Margaret Howe Lovatt lived side by side, six days a week, with a dolphin called Peter. Archive stills showed the glamorous Lovatt at work, looking like Audrey Hepburn in a swimsuit advert. Unfortunately, these charming photographs seem to have been of much more lasting value than the scientific research she conducted.
This was a very Sixties tale, involving sexual liberation, space exploration and injecting dolphins with LSD…
But of course what the media fixated on was that Lovatt described a sexual relationship with Peter the dolphin. She said he was young and coming of age and had so many sexual urges that she relieved them manually. She said it wasn’t sexual for her; she just didn’t want distractions from her primary work. You’ve probably seen the lascivious stories floating around the internet. The same thing happened back in the ’60s after Hustler Magazine got a-hold of the sexual sidelight of the research.
I found the story interesting in light of the personalities involved–even Carl Sagan weighed in at one point! The best article to read on the documentary and the classic study is at The Guardian UK: The dolphin who loved me: the Nasa-funded project that went wrong. It’s a very long article; I’ll give you a few excerpts.
Lovett had been interested in communicating with animals since early childhood. She was living on St. Thomas in the Caribbean. In 1963 she heard about a laboratory that was doing research on dolphins. She found the place and introduced herself to Gregory Bateson, who took a shine to her and invited her to come back anytime. She did and eventually she went to work with John Lilly and his three dolphins.
“There were three dolphins,” remembers Lovatt. “Peter, Pamela and Sissy. Sissy was the biggest. Pushy, loud, she sort of ran the show. Pamela was very shy and fearful. And Peter was a young guy. He was sexually coming of age and a bit naughty.” ….
The lab’s upper floors overhung a sea pool that housed the animals. It was cleaned by the tide through openings at each end. The facility had been designed to bring humans and dolphins into closer proximity and was the brainchild of an American neuroscientist, Dr John Lilly. Here, Lilly hoped to commune with the creatures, nurturing their ability to make human-like sounds through their blow holes.
Lilly had been interested in connecting with cetaceans since coming face to face with a beached pilot whale on the coast near his home in Massachusetts in 1949. The young medic couldn’t quite believe the size of the animal’s brain – and began to imagine just how intelligent the creature must have been, explains Graham Burnett, professor of the history of science at Princeton and author of The Sounding of the Whale. “You are talking about a time in science when everybody’s thinking about a correlation between brain size and what the brain can do. And in this period, researchers were like: ‘Whoa… big brain huh… cool!'”
Lovett thought that if she lived alone with a dolphin, she might be able to learn to communicate with it, and Lilly went along with her idea.
Lovatt selected the young male dolphin called Peter for her live-in experiment. “I chose to work with Peter because he had not had any human-like sound training and the other two had,” she explains. Lovatt would attempt to live in isolation with him six days a week, sleeping on a makeshift bed on the elevator platform in the middle of the room and doing her paperwork on a desk suspended from the ceiling and hanging over the water. On the seventh day Peter would return to the sea pool downstairs to spend time with the two female dolphins at the lab – Pamela and Sissy.
By the summer of 1965, Lovatt’s domestic dolphinarium was ready for use. Lying in bed, surrounded by water that first night and listening to the pumps gurgling away, she remembers questioning what she was doing. “Human people were out there having dinner or whatever and here I am. There’s moonlight reflecting on the water, this fin and this bright eye looking at you and I thought: ‘Wow, why am I here?’ But then you get back into it and it never occurred to me not to do it. What I was doing there was trying to find out what Peter was doing there and what we could do together. That was the whole point and nobody had done that.”
Audio recordings of Lovatt’s progress, meticulously archived on quarter-inch tapes at the time, capture the energy that Lovatt brought to the experiment – doggedly documenting Peter’s progress with her twice-daily lessons and repeatedly encouraging him to greet her with the phrase ‘Hello Margaret’. “‘M’ was very difficult,” she remembers. “My name. Hello ‘M’argaret. I worked on the ‘M’ sound and he eventually rolled over to bubble it through the water. That ‘M’, he worked on so hard.”
For Lovatt, though, it often wasn’t these formal speech lessons that were the most productive. It was just being together which taught her the most about what made Peter tick. “When we had nothing to do was when we did the most,” she reflects. “He was very, very interested in my anatomy. If I was sitting here and my legs were in the water, he would come up and look at the back of my knee for a long time. He wanted to know how that thing worked and I was so charmed by it.”
Lovatt was serious about her work, but ultimately Lilly’s obsession with LSD experimentation sidetracked the project.
Lilly had been researching the mind-altering powers of the drug LSD since the early 1960s. The wife of Ivan Tors, the producer of the dolphin movie Flipper, had first introduced him to it at a party in Hollywood. “John and Ivan Tors were really good friends,” says Ric O’Barry of the Dolphin Project (an organisation that aims to stop dolphin slaughter and exploitation around the world) and a friend of Lilly’s at the time. “Ivan was financing some of the work on St Thomas. I saw John go from a scientist with a white coat to a full blown hippy,” he remembers….
In the 1960s a small selection of neuroscientists like John Lilly were licensed to research LSD by the American government, convinced that the drug had medicinal qualities that could be used to treat mental-health patients. As part of this research, the drug was sometimes injected into animals and Lilly had been using it on his dolphins since 1964, curious about the effect it would have on them.
The drug had zero effect on the dophins, because drugs affect different species in different ways; but Lilly insisted on continuing the injections anyway. Lovatt was totally against it, but she wasn’t the one in charge. (In an interesting sidenote, Lilly was turned on to LSD by the director of the movie Flipper.) Eventually Bateson resigned over it and NASA cut Lilly’s funding. Sadly, the dophins were sent to cramped lab in Miami, where the dolphins didn’t get enough sunlight and exercise.
“I got that phone call from John Lilly,” she recalls. “John called me himself to tell me. He said Peter had committed suicide.”
Ric O’Barry corroborates the use of this word. “Dolphins are not automatic air-breathers like we are,” he explains. “Every breath is a conscious effort. If life becomes too unbearable, the dolphins just take a breath and they sink to the bottom. They don’t take the next breath.” Andy Williamson puts Peter’s death down to a broken heart, brought on by a separation from Lovatt that he didn’t understand. “Margaret could rationalise it, but when she left, could Peter? Here’s the love of his life gone.”
“I wasn’t terribly unhappy about it,” explains Lovatt, 50 years on. “I was more unhappy about him being in those conditions [at the Miami lab] than not being at all. Nobody was going to bother Peter, he wasn’t going to hurt, he wasn’t going to be unhappy, he was just gone. And that was OK. Odd, but that’s how it was.”
Lilly’s ideas about dolphin communication most likely inspired the book and movie The Day of the Dolphin. The movie starred George C. Scott and was directed by Mike Nichols. The screenplay was by Buck Henry.
A couple of reactions to this story:
The New York Daily News reports on a man who claims to have had sex with a female dolphin: ‘Wet Goddess’ author shares details of his 6-month sexual relationship with Dolly the dolphin.
Another self-confessed dolphin lover claims he had a six-month consensual affair with one of the sleek marine animals — and insists it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Malcolm Brenner, 63, shared his story with British newspaperThe Mirror in the wake of a BBC documentary that featured Margaret Howe Lovatt, an animal researcher who said she had sex with a dolphin in the 1960s as part of a NASA-funded study.
Brenner, a writer who also admits to having prior sexual experiences with a dog, said he fell in love with Dolly the dolphin in a Florida amusement park in 1971.
Dolly “came on to him,” he told The Mirror — and he was heartbroken when she died about nine months after they met.
The two had their interspecies intercourse after conspiring to elude the male dolphin that shared Dolly’s pool, Brenner said.
Salon: Human-on-dolphin sex is not really that weird. Author Tracy Clark-Flory writes that Lovatt’s behavior with Peter wasn’t unique in science:
Judging from the collective horrified response, you would think that a human giving a handy to an animal was an aberrant, unthinkable act. But such fondling isn’t unheard of in the realm of animal research.
There are two major published examples. The first: In 1970, anthropologist Francis Burton published “Sexual Climax in female Macaca mulatta.” She wanted to answer the question of whether female monkeys experienced orgasm. Burton placed the primates in dog harnesses and cat collars to restrict their movement. Then the researcher put a “penis-simulator” into “the animal’s vagina with vaseline as lubricant,” and moved it at a pace of two to five thrusts a second. Burton wasn’t able to definitively conclude that female monkeys could orgasm, but she did identify an excitement, plateau and resolution phase, as Masters and Johnson had identified in humans.
“I think in the field it is generally thought that a similar study would never get through an institutional animal use and care committee,” says Kim Wallen, a psychology professor at Emory University who specializes in primate sexual behavior.
The second case is that of psychologist Frank Beach and his research on beagles in the ’80s. “Most of the work he did was behavioral, looking at the effects of prenatal androgens on sexual differentiation, but some of his treated animals were unable to copulate and he wanted to know if they showed normal genital reflexes, even though they did not copulate,” says Wallen. So, he masturbated the dogs and observed their responses.
Clark-Flory notes that it is common for researchers to sexually stimulate animals to “collect semen for breeding purposes.” I just hope Rick Santorum doesn’t find out about this.
I hope I haven’t bored you silly with this post. I don’t know what got into me today; I just couldn’t write about news of politics or war. It’s either writer’s block or I’m just plain sick of news and politics today. I’ll add a few news links in the comments, and I hope you’ll do the same. Have a great Thursday!!
There has been a lot of “space” news this weekend. So our first few links will focus on the skies…Did you see the Harvest Moon last night? What was interesting about this Harvest Moon was its relationship to Uranus. (Ha….) No Seriously! If you missed it, here is a video from the SLOOH space camera.
When you gaze at the full moon this weekend, think of farmers working late into the evening to gather their crop, because that’s how the Harvest Moongot its name.
The Harvest Moon allows farmers at the peak of the current harvest season to stay in the fields longer than usual, working by the moon‘s light. It rises around sunset, but also — and more importantly — the moon seems to appear at nearly the same time each successive night.Near-infrared views of Uranus reveal its otherwise faint ring system, highlighting the extent to which the planet is tilted.
CREDIT: Lawrence Sromovsky, (Univ. Wisconsin-Madison), Keck Observatory
Uranus’ atmosphere is dominated primarily by hydrogen and helium, with a small amount of methane that gives the “ice giant” its bluish-green tint. The planet has a ring system and 27 known moons. It’s also tilted so far that it essentially orbits the sun on its side; researchers think the planet may have been knocked askew by a collision with another large body long ago.
If skywatchers wish to see Uranus through their own telescopes Saturday night, they should scan just below the moon and look for the only green “star” in the field of view, Slooh officials said.
Hmmmm, I never thought Uranus would be described as a bright green light in the night sky. (Okay I am being way to infantile here.)
In other worlds news, Curiosity found an old river bed on Mars. NASA Rover Finds Old Streambed on Martian Surface – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA’s Curiosity rover mission has found evidence a stream once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but this evidence — images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels — is the first of its kind.
Scientists are studying the images of stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. The sizes and shapes of stones offer clues to the speed and distance of a long-ago stream’s flow.
“From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep,” said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. “Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it.”
Go check out all the photos and more information at that link to Nasa’s JPL site.
Now on to some news from our own Earthly planet.
First let’s go with a bit of intimidation….there is a woman who is getting a first hand look at an Attack from the PLUBs, I think I would prefer Martians any day. Intimidation: Now It’s a First Amendment Right! | RH Reality Check
For anti-choicers, the right to freedom of speech is like a game of Calvin-ball, the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip “sport” in which all rules could be revised, changed, updated, and discarded depending on what it took to win. They claim that freedom of speech trumps literally every other right, as long as it is done under the guise of “saving babies.”
It’s “freedom of speech,” for example, to “inconvenience” Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando CEO Jenna Tosh by picketing her home. Tosh told the WinterPark, Florida, city council that she felt “threatened and ambushed” when anti-choicers picketed her home, and the council passed a short-term ordinance forbidding assembly on a residential property.
Of course, there were some folks who disagreed with this action.
After all, it was just one woman being intimidated. In an op-ed written by the Florida Sentinel, the paper argues:
Winter Park modeled its measure after ordinances that already had passed constitutional muster, so we aren’t arguing legal merits. But we do question the knee-jerk response to a single citizen’s complaint—precipitated by the distribution of pro-life handouts and, nearly a week later, some nonviolent picketing. And we question the need for a new law when laws exist to protect citizens against protests that grow unruly. And we question why government officials are so quick to crack down on freedom of speech. Imagine the outcry if commissioners had tried to go after the Second Amendment. Having to push past protesters toting signs that read “Jenna Tosh kills babies and hurts women” certainly is unpleasant. We sympathize with her. However, her need to avoid disturbing, anti-abortion expressions outside her home shouldn’t trump the rights of the many to exercise their First Amendment rights within public areas in residential areas.
Is it merely “unpleasant” to have people picket your neighborhood in a group, using your name and calling you a baby-killer? Does making someone feel unsafe in her own home not matter if it somehow infringes on the right of a group to make that person feel intimidated? And where exactly do “free speech” advocates draw the line for what constitutes “unruly?”
The article also mentions the courts reactions to these intimidation tactics.
it seems as though courts are bending over backwards toignore the physical intimidation involved in many of the anti-choice protesters’ activities. In a recent FACE act case involving an anti-choice activist at EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, the judge decided that touching an escort is just another way of expressing “freedom of speech.”
“In his attempt to continue talking to the patient, [anti-choice “sidewalk counselor” David Hamilton ‘pushed [clinic escort Jane Fitts’s] arm down slightly,’” [U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman] found.
But the judge said the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), requires the prosecution to show Hamilton used force with the intent to injure or intimidate someone because that person was seeking or providing reproductive health services.
There are questions for a jury concerning whether any contact “was used intentionally to injure, intimidate, or interfere” and “whether Fitts was indeed providing reproductive health services.”
The judge suggested it was possible that Fitts was not an “escort” at all but would be “more accurately characterized as a counter-protester.”
“U.S. courts are charged with protecting the freedoms of all American citizens,” said Cody. “Sidewalk counselors have the same rights as other people.”
How is pushing an escort’s arm down in order to make contact with a patient trying to access abortion services not an attempt to “interfere” with or “intimidate” both the escort and the woman seeking a termination?
Anti-choicers don’t appear to “have the same rights as other people.” They claim more rights, supra-rights, a secretly granted set of rights that appear to trump the rights of those who seek reproductive health care, those who provide it, and those who assist in ensuring the first two can meet each other without hindrance. If the right to freedom of speech outweighs the pursuit of happiness—i.e.: the ability to access care, the ability to walk the streets without unwanted physical contact, the right to feel safe in your own home, then how does anyone else have any freedom at all?
(I thought that was a great post btw…that was why I used so much of it.)
Hey if not intimidation, lets talk disenfranchised voters? Warning, this link goes to Fox News…but I thought it was an interesting spin on the Voter ID laws and the push from the GOP to make it hard as hell for Dems to “get out the vote.” Drop in Ohio voter registration, especially in Dem strongholds, mirrors nationwide trend | Fox News
Speaking of party lines…The Bottom Line on Party ID | TPM Editors Blog That link will take you to a short post with a rather big graph. Take a look, it is interactive!
There is a real good post on Juan Cole this morning, written by Alice K. Ross: Obama set precedent with Drone Killings for Romney to become Terminator-in-Chief (Ross) | Informed Comment
President Obama’s personal involvement in selecting the targets of covert drone strikes means he risks effectively handing a ‘loaded gun’ to Mitt Romney come November, says the co-author of a new report aimed at US policymakers.
‘If Obama leaves, he’s leaving a loaded gun: he’s set up a programme where the greatest constraint is his personal prerogative. There’s no legal oversight, no courtroom that can make [the drone programme] stop. A President Romney could vastly accelerate it,’ said Naureen Shah, associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at the Columbia Law School.
That is just a taste, you go read the rest of it at the link.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution broke the story about the cheating scandal last year, they have a new investigative report that you should read.
The stain of cheating spread unchecked across 44 Atlanta schools before the state finally stepped in and cleaned it up. But across the country, oversight remains so haphazard that most states cannot guarantee the integrity of their standardized tests, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.
Poor oversight means that cheating scandals in other states are inevitable. It also undermines a national education policy built on test scores, which the states and local districts use to fire teachers, close schools and direct millions of dollars in funding.
The AJC’s survey of the 50 state education departments found that many states do not use basic test security measures designed to stop cheating on tests. And most states make almost no attempt to screen test results for irregularities.
Please take a look at that article.
I was going to post a link to this post from WhoWhatWhere, but Susie Madrak also read it and wrote about it…so here is her take on the piece. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Nuclear Standoff With Iran | Crooks and Liars
Over at WhoWhatWhy.com, Christian Stork has a thorough analysis debunking the most common myths propagated about the West’s nuclear stand-off with Iran. It’s all so familiar, isn’t it? I know if I think really hard, I can figure it out. Oh, wait – it’s just like the buildup to both wars in Iraq! And of course both times, the media did their best stenography impression.
That’s why stories like this are so important. In his “Idiot’s Guide to Iran and the Bomb,” Stork lists 8 important lessons for all people to keep in mind when surveying the media landscape around Iran’s nuclear program.
The first lesson taught, with exhaustive documentation, is that Iran is not building nuclear weapons. Considering how hard the mainstream media is working to convince us otherwise, it might be hard to grasp. But that’s why stories like this tutorial are needed. Click here to see the rest of what Stork calls his “introductory course in intellectual self-defense”
Go and check it out.
I will end this post with a couple of articles about history, I know Dakinikat will like this first a story about an ancient burial site in Denmark.
The National Museum of DenmarkThis 2,800-year-old Lusehoj textile made from imported nettles was found in a grave along with the bones from what may be a Scandinavian man, scientists reported on Friday.
Ancient scraps of fabric found in a grave in Denmark are not made of cultivated flax as once believed, but instead are woven from imported wild nettles, suggesting the grave’s inhabitant may have traveled far for burial.
This discovery, announced Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, casts a new light on the textile trade in Bronze Age Europe, said study researcher Ulla Mannering, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen.
“Since the Stone Age, they had very well-developed agriculture and technology for producing linen textiles,” Mannering told LiveScience. “So it’s really unusual that a society which has established agriculture would also take in material from things that are not of the normal standardized agricultural production” — in other words, wild plants.
“The fibers we get from the European nettle are very, very fine and soft and shiny, and we often say this is a sort of prehistoric silk textile,” Mannering said. (Silk, made from insect cocoons, is known for its shimmery texture.)
Previous analysis pegged the Danish fabric as woven from flax, a plant widely cultivated in the region. But along with nanophysicist Bodil Holst of the University of Bergen in Norway, Mannering and her colleagues used advanced methods to reanalyze the scraps of cloth. By studying the fiber orientation as well as the presence of certain crystals found in plants, the researchers were able to learn that the fabric is not flax at all, but nettle, a group of plants known for the needlelike stingers that line their stems and leaves.
Nor is the nettle local, Mannering said. Different soil regions contain different variations of elements. The variation of one of these elements, strontium, found in the fabric, was not local to Denmark, suggesting the plants the textile was made from grew elsewhere.
There are a few regions that match the strontium profile, the researchers found, but the most likely candidate is southwest Austria. The bronze burial urn holding the remains is from Austria, Mannering said, and it makes sense that the fabric might be too.
Hey, what do you know… he was a traveling man?
Despite these imported grave goods, the remains appear to be those of a Danish man, Mannering said. The personal objects in the grave, such as two razors, suggest he was a Scandinavian, albeit perhaps a well-traveled one, she said.
“Maybe he died in Austria and was wrapped in this Austrian urn and Austrian textile and was brought back to Denmark in this condition and then put in a big burial mound,” Mannering said. “The personal objects that were placed inside the urn together with this textile and the bones indicate that he is a male of Scandinavian origin, but it doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have died abroad.”
And, lastly this blast from the past….my son will be very excited about this link…he loves the Beatles. I think many of you will appreciate it too. October 1962: the month that modern culture was born
The Beatles at the Cavern Club, Liverpool, in 1962. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives
On 5 October 1962, a new sound filled the nation’s airwaves. It was raw, simple, direct and sexy. “Love, love me do,” sang Lennon and McCartney, “You know I love you.” The Beatles had arrived, and a new generation had a new soundtrack to their lives. Seventeen years after VE Day and VJ Day, the war was finally over. Nothing – in culture, in society, in the everyday world itself – would ever be quite the same again.
When, exactly, did the 1960s began? Was it when JFK announced he was running for president (31 January 1960)? When Harold Macmillan acknowledged “the winds of change” sweeping through colonial Africa (3 February)? Or when the chain-smoking Princess Margaret announced her engagement to a commoner, photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, on 26 February? Or was it when Kennedy finally won the US election, by a whisker, on 9 November?
Some would go further, and deny that any kind of transition occurred until the new American president had, thrillingly, been sworn in on the icy-blue morning of 20 January 1961. Until then, they say, the west was still in the grip of the sclerotic gerontocracy represented by Eisenhower and Khrushchev. One thing is certain: the 1950s took a while to pass into the limbo of lost time.
Enjoy that article, and have a wonderful Sunday Morning!
I’m teaching a Psychology of Personality course this semester, and yesterday I started lecturing about Freud and psychoanalytic theory. I was explaining Freud’s notion of the three parts of the personality–the id, the ego, and the superego. You’re probably familiar with those terms, but basically the id is there when we are born–it is completely self-centered, doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality, all it cares about is pleasure. It wants what it wants when it wants it. Sometime during infancy, we develop an ego that gets the id under some control, and around age 4-6 we develop a superego–basically like a conscience, that tells us which behaviors are right or wrong or socially acceptable.
Anyway, after class I was thinking about Muammar Gaddafi and his bizarre behavior–the way he has insisted for weeks that there is no opposition and that he isn’t attacking Libyan citizens. No, he would never do that. It occurred to me that Gaddafi is pretty much acting from his id all the time. Of course his ego keeps him somewhat connected to reality so he can function in the world, but mostly he just cares about his own needs.
I wonder if that is what happens to all leaders who gain absolute control. Does the quote “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” really mean that power causes people to regress to an earlier stage of development?
It sounds peculiar, but think about how powerful people get so many of their needs met by others. Obama doesn’t have to worry about paying for things, getting food or clothing, even getting information. It is all provided by other people. In many ways, it’s a kind of childlike, dependent state. So if the leader doesn’t have a strong character (ego), he can end up behaving in a narcissistic, childlike way.
OK, well that’s my not-very-deep thought for today.
So what’s happening in the news? As has often been the case in recent weeks, much of the big news is coming from outside the U.S.
On Libya, there has been more criticism of the UN resolution and how it is being carried out. I posted quite a few examples of the criticism in my post last night. Most of the objections are based on the fact that Libya is not at all important to the U.S. strategically.
Today I want to recommend a couple of articles that explain why the intervention in Libya, while troubling in many ways, was probably the right thing to do–even for U.S. interests. The first is by Mark Lynch at the Foreign Policy blog. Lynch uses the name “abuardvark” on twitter. His post is headlined Libya in its Arab Context Although Lynch has misgivings about the intervention and has written about them, he still thinks what the U.S. is doing is the right thing–both for the Arab world and for advancing our interests. Here’s his basic argument:
Libya matters to the United States not for its oil or intrinsic importance, but because it has been a key part of the rapidly evolving transformation of the Arab world. For Arab protestors and regimes alike, Gaddafi’s bloody response to the emerging Libyan protest movement had become a litmus test for the future of the Arab revolution. If Gaddafi succeeded in snuffing out the challenge by force without a meaningful response from the United States, Europe and the international community then that would have been interpreted as a green light for all other leaders to employ similar tactics. The strong international response, first with the tough targeted sanctions package brokered by the United States at the United Nations and now with the military intervention, has the potential to restrain those regimes from unleashing the hounds of war and to encourage the energized citizenry of the region to redouble their efforts to bring about change. This regional context may not be enough to justify the Libya intervention, but I believe it is essential for understanding the logic and stakes of the intervention by the U.S. and its allies.
Libya’s degeneration from protest movement into civil war has been at the center of the Arab public sphere for the last month. It is not an invention of the Obama administration, David Cameron or Nicholas Sarkozy. Al-Jazeera has been covering events in Libya extremely closely, even before it tragically lost one of its veteran cameramen to Qaddafi’s forces, and has placed it at the center of the evolving narrative of Arab uprisings. Over the last month I have heard personally or read comments from an enormous number of Arab activists and protest organizers and intellectuals from across the region that events in Libya would directly affect their own willingness to challenge their regimes. The centrality of Libya to the Arab transformation undermines arguments that Libya is not particularly important to the U.S. (it is, because it affects the entire region) or that Libya doesn’t matter more than, say, Cote D’Ivoire (which is also horrible but lacks the broader regional impact).
Lynch is still worried about what could go wrong:
I continue to have many, many reservations about the military intervention, especially about the risk that it will degenerate into an extended civil war which will require troops regardless of promises made today. But as I noted on Twitter over the weekend, for all those reservations I keep remembering how I felt at the world’s and America’s failure in Bosnia and Rwanda. And I can’t ignore the powerful place which Libya occupies in the emerging Arab transformations, and how the outcome there could shape the region’s future. Failure to act would have damned Obama in the eyes of the emerging empowered Arab public, would have emboldened brutality across the region, and would have left Qaddafi in place to wreak great harm. I would have preferred a non-military response — as, I am quite sure, the Obama administration would have preferred. But Qaddafi’s military advances and the failure of the sanctions to split his regime left Obama and his allies with few choices. The intervention did not come out of nowhere. It came out of an intense international focus on the Arab transformations and a conviction that what happens now could shape the region for decades.
At CNN, Peter Bergen tries to explain Why Libya 2011 is not Iraq 2003 I recommend checking it out.
Another article worth reading is by Robert Fisk at The Independent: Right across the Arab world, freedom is now a prospect
In the Middle East, Yemen may be close to ousting President Ali Abdullah Saleh. From the Guardian:
A military showdown is looming in Yemen after the defence minister announced that the army would defend the president against any “coup against democracy”. His statement came hours after 12 military commanders, including a senior general, defected from the regime and promised to protect anti-government protesters in the capital, Sana’a.
Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, suffered a significant blow when General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, his longtime confidant and head of the Yemeni army in the north-west, announced that he would support “the peaceful revolution” by sending soldiers under his command to protect the thousands gathered in the capital to demand that Saleh step down.
“According to what I’m feeling, and according to the feelings of my partner commanders and soldiers … I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution,” Ali Mohsen said.
Minutes after his defection, tanks belonging to the republican guards, an elite force led by Ahmed Ali, the president’s son, rolled into the streets of Sana’a, setting the stage for a confrontation between defectors and loyalists.
At Bloomberg: U.S. Faces Loss of Key Ally Against Al-Qaeda in Yemen
…Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears unlikely to weather a popular uprising and defections among his ruling elite, former U.S. officials said.
“It’s clear at this point that Saleh will have to step down,” Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said in an interview yesterday. With the “mounting numbers of senior people in his administration resigning, we know it’s over. The terms of his departure, I think, are still being negotiated.”
The March 18 killing of at least 46 protesters allegedly by police and pro-regime gunmen — which drew condemnation from Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and prompted the defection of key military, tribal and government officials — may well be the tipping point.
Protests are continuing to escalate in Syria as well.
In Deraa, hundreds of black-uniformed security forces wielding AK-47 assault rifles lined the streets but did not confront thousands of mourners who marched at the funeral of 23-year-old Raed al-Kerad, a protester killed in Deraa.
“God, Syria, freedom. The people want the overthrow of corruption,” they chanted. The slogan is a play on the words “the people want the overthrow of the regime,” the rallying cry of revolutions that overthrew the veteran rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.
Security forces opened fire last Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Deraa to demand the release of 15 children detained for writing protest graffiti.
Authorities released the children on Monday in a sign they were hoping to defuse tension in the border town, which witnessed more protests after Friday’s crackdown.
And there is a lot happening in Bahrain too. This article is worth a read: Libya burns but Bahrain can shake the world
While the world attention remains glued to the fires in Libya potential stakes in Bahrain are actually a hundred times higher. Safaniya Oil Field, the largest oil field in the world, is less than 200 miles from Manama. The Strait of Hormuz, through which passes 20 percent of world oil shipments and 40 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil shipments, is within a 400-mile radius.
More importantly, United States Fifth Fleet, with a forward deployed Carrier Strike Group, Combat Command force, Anti-Terrorism force, Sea Stallion helicopters, Amphibious Force and Patrol and Reconnaissance Force, is headquartered at Naval Support Activity Bahrain (or NSA Bahrain). In essence, Bahrain is home to America’s military might that reigns over the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Arabian Sea-all put together.
On March 14, around 2,000 soldiers of the Saudi-led, US-backed Peninsula Shield Force, in their armored carriers and tanks, invaded Bahrain. The stated purpose of the invasion is: to crush an unarmed civilian uprising.
On March 15, King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa of Mamlakat al Bahrayn declared martial law under which the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF), numbering around 10,000 personnel, was “empowered to take whatever actions it deems appropriate in dealing with the predominately Shiite-driven unrest.”
I recommend clicking on the link and reading the rest to learn how Iran could get involved in the Bahrain conflict. Yikes!
In Japan workers are still trying to get the Fukushima nuclear plant under control. We keep hearing that things are improving, but it’s kind of hard for me to trust what I hear from governments and corporations these days. After Iraq, Katrina, the BP oil spill, and on and on, I honestly believe just about everyone in government and private business lies their asses off. The biggest fear at the moment is the radiation that is turning up in food and water. Of course the authorities claim that’s nothing to worry about, but why should we believe them?
Away from the plant, mounting evidence of radiation in vegetables, water and milk stirred concerns among Japanese and abroad despite assurances from Japanese officials that the levels were not dangerous.
TEPCO said radiation was found in the Pacific ocean nearby , not surprising given rain and the hosing of reactors with seawater. Some experts said it was unclear where the used seawater was ultimately being disposed.
Radioactive iodine in the sea samples was 126.7 times the allowed limit, while cesium was 24.8 times over, Kyodo said. That still posed no immediate danger, TEPCO said.
“It would have to be drunk for a whole year in order to accumulate to one millisievert,” a TEPCO official said, referring to the standard radiation measurement unit. People are generally exposed to about 1 to 10 millisieverts each year from background radiation caused by substances in the air and soil.
Whatever. I wouldn’t want to drink from the tap or swim in the radioactive ocean water.
Wisconsin’s attorney general asked an appeals court to block a state judge’s order that temporarily halted a law curbing government employee unions’ collective- bargaining power.
State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today also asked the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for permission to file an appeal seeking to overturn the ruling by Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi.
“Contrary to established case law, the trial court injected itself into the legislative process and enjoined a legislative act,” Van Hollen said in court papers filed today in Madison. “There is absolutely no authority for the broad, overreaching step taken.”
Sumi on March 18 granted a temporary restraining order blocking publication of the measure signed into law by Governor Scott Walker on March 11, after a hearing in Madison, the state’s capital city. Publication gives the law full force and effect.
I’ll end on a lighter note. If you’re as old as I am, you might remember a guy named Owsley “Bear” Stanley: “the Sixties hero who ‘turned on’ a generation.” Stanley died a few days ago in a car crash at the age of 76.
Stanley, who died in a car crash in Australia on Sunday, fuelled the “flower power” counter-culture that took root in California in the mid-1960s, supplying it with acid that he manufactured after stumbling across a recipe in a chemistry journal.
He also worked with the psychedelic rock band Grateful Dead, who wrote their song “Alice D Millionaire” about him after a newspaper described him as an “LSD millionaire”. One batch of his drugs reputedly inspired Jimi Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze”, and he provided LSD for the notorious “Acid Test” parties hosted by the American writer Ken Kesey, which featured in books by Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson.
News of Stanley’s death – his car swerved off a road and slammed into a tree near his home in north Queensland – elicited tributes, but also surprise. Despite a youth so misspent that his name became slang for good acid, Stanley had made it to the age of 76. He was even a great-grandfather. In a statement yesterday, his family mourned him as “our beloved patriarch”.
Supposedly, a batch of Owsley’s acid inspired Jimi Hendrix’s first big hit, Purple Haze. Rest in peace, Owsley. I am one “casualty” of the ’60s who did learn something significant from my experiences with LSD. One thing I eventually learned is that I don’t need drugs to “get high.”
I guess that’s another not-so-deep thought, but hey, I’m OK with that. What are you reading and blogging about today?