My road travelled from microbiology to computer science

From bites to bytes or, more precisely, from foods to formalisations, and that sprinkled with a handful of humanities and a dash of design. It does add up. The road I travelled into computer science has nothing to do with any ‘gender blabla’, nor with an idealistic drive to solve the world food problem by other means, nor that I would have become fed up with the broad theme of agriculture. But then what was it? I’m regularly asked about that road into computer science, for various reasons. There are those who are curious or nosy, some deem it improbable and that I must be making it up, and yet others chiefly speculate about where I obtained the money from to pay for it all. So here it goes, in a fairly large write-up since I did not take a straight path, let alone a shortcut.

If you’ve seen my CV, you know I studied “Food Science, free specialisation” at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. It is the university to go to for all things to do with agriculture in the broad sense. Somehow I made it into computer science, but it was not there. The motivation does come from there, thanks to it being at the forefront of science and such has an ambiance that facilitates exposure to a wide range of topics and techniques within the education system and among fellow students. (Also, it really was the best quality education I ever had, which deserves to be said—and I’ve been around to have ample comparison material.)

And yet.

Perhaps it is conceivable to speculate that all the hurdles with mathematics and PC use when I was young were the motivation to turn to computing. Definitely not. Instead, it happened when I was working on my last, and major, Master’s thesis in the Molecular Ecology section of the Laboratory of Microbiology at Wageningen University, having drifted away a little from microbes in food science.

My thesis topic was about trying to clean up chemically contaminated soil by using bacteria that would eat the harmful compounds, rather than cleaning up the site by disrupting the ecosystem with excavations and chemical treatments of the soil. In this case, it was about 3-chlorobenzoate, which is an intermediate degradation product from, mainly, spilled paint that had been going on since the 1920s and said molecule substantially reduces growth and yield of maize, which is undesirable. I set out to examine a bunch of configurations of different amounts of 3-chlorobenzoate in the soil together with the Pseudomonas B13 bacteria and distance to the roots of the maize plants and their effects on the growth of the maize plants. The bacteria were expected to clean up more of the 3-chlorobenzoate in the area nearby the roots (the rhizosphere), and there were some questions about what the bacteria would do once the 3-chlorobenzoate ran out (mainly: will they die or feed on other molecules?).

The birds-eye view still sounds interesting to me, but there was a lot of boring work to do to find the answer. There were days that the only excitement was to open the stove to see whether my beasts had grown on the agar plate in the petri dish; if they had (yay!), I was punished with counting the colonies. Staring at dots on the agar plate in the petri dish and counting them. Then there were the analysis methods to be used, of which two turned out to be crucial for changing track, mixed with a minor logistical issue to top it off.

First, there was the PCR technique to sequence genetic material, which by now during COVID-19 times, may be a familiar term. There are machines that do the procedure automatically. In 1997, it was still a cumbersome procedure, which took about a day near non-stop work to sequence the short ribosomal RNA (16S rRNA) strand that was extracted from the collected bacteria. That was how we could figure out whether any of those white dots in the petri dish were, say, the Pseudomonas B13 I had inoculated the soil with, or some other soil bacteria. You extract the genetic material, multiply it, sequence it and then compare it. It was the last step that was the coolest.

The average number of base pairs of the 16S rRNA of a bacterium is around 1500 base pairs which is represented as a sequence of some 1500 capital letters consisting of A’s, C’s, G’s, and U’s. For comparison: the SARS-CoV-2 genome is about 30000 base pairs. You really don’t want to compare either one by hand against even one other similar sequence of letters, let alone manually checking your newly PCR-ed sequence against many others to figure out which bacteria you likely had isolated or which one is phylogenetically most closely related. Instead, we sent the sequence, as a string of flat text with those ACGU letters, to a database called the RNABase and we received an answer with a list of more or less likely matches within a few hours to a day, depending on the time of submitting it to the database.

It was like magic. But how did it really do that? What is a database? How does it calculate the alignments? And since it can do this cool stuff that’s not doable by humans, what else can you do with such techniques to advance our knowledge about the world? How much faster can science advance with these things? I wanted to know. I needed to know.

The other technique I had to work with was not new to me, but I had to scale it up: the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). You give the machine a solution and it separates out the component molecules, so you can figure out what’s in the solution and how much of it is in there. Different types of molecules stick to the wall of the tube inside the machine at different places. The machine then spits out the result as a graph, where different peaks scattered across the x axis indicate different substances in the solution and the size of the peak indicates the concentration of that molecule in the sample.

I had taken multiple soil samples closer and father away from the rhizosphere of different boxes with maize plants with different treatments of the soil, rinsed it and tested the solution in the HPLC. The task then was to compare the resulting graphs to see if there was a difference in treatment. Having printed them all out, they covered a large table of about 1.5 by 2 meter, and I had to look closely at them and try to do some manual pattern matching on the shape and size of the graphs and sub-graphs. There was no program that could compare graphs automatically. I tried to overlay printouts and hold them in front of the ceiling light. With every printed graph about the size of 20x20cm, you can calculate how many I had and how many 1-by-1 comparisons that amounts to (this is left as an exercise to the reader). It felt primitive, especially considering all the fancy toys in the lab and on the PC. Couldn’t those software developers not also develop a tool to compare graphs?! Now that would have been useful. But no. If only I could develop such a useful tool myself; then I would not have to wait on the software developers until they care to develop it.

On top of that manual analysis was that it seemed unfair that I had to copy the data from the HPLC machine in the basement of the building onto a 3.5 inch floppy disk and walk upstairs to the third floor to the shared MSc thesis students’ desktop PCs to be able to process it, whereas the PCR data was accessible from my desktop PC even though the PCR machine was on the ground floor. The PC could access the internet and present data from all over the world, even, so surely it should be able to connect to the HPLC downstairs?! Enter questions about computer networks.

The first step in trying to get some answers, was to inquire with the academics in the department. “Maybe there’s something like ‘theoretical microbiology’, or whatever it’s called that focuses on data analysis and modelling of microbiology? It is the fun part of the research—and avoids lab work?”, I asked my supervisor and more generally in the lab. “Not really,”, was the answer, continuing “ok, sure, there is some, but theory-only without the evidence from experiments isn’t it.” Despite all the advanced equipment, of which computing is an indispensable component, they still deemed that wetlab research trumped solely theory and computing. “Those technologies are there to assist answering faster the new and more advanced questions, but not replace the processes”, I was told.

Sigh. Pity. So be it, I supposed. But I still wanted answers to those computing questions. I also wanted to do a PhD in microbiology and then probably move to some other discipline, since I sensed that possibly after another 4-6 years I might become bored with microbiology. Then there was the logistical issue that I still could not walk well, which made wetlab work difficult; hence, it would make obtaining a PhD scholarship harder. Lab work was a hard requirement for a PhD in microbiology and it wasn’t exactly the most exciting part of studying bacteria. So, I might as well swap to something else straight away then. Since there were those questions in computing that I wanted answers to, there we have the inevitable conclusion to move to greener, or at least as green, pastures.

***

How to obtain those answers in computing? Signing up for a sort of ‘top up’ degree for the computing aspects would be nice, so as to do that brand new thing called bioinformatics. There were no such top-up degrees in the Netherlands at the time and the only one that came close was a full degree in medical informatics, which is not what I wanted. I didn’t want to know about all the horrible diseases people can get.

The only way to combine it, was to enrol in the 1st year of a degree in computing. The snag was the money. I was finishing up my 5 years of state funding for the master’s degree (old system, so it included the BSc) and the state paid for only one such degree. The only way to be able to do it, was to start working, save money, and pay for it myself at some point in the near future once I’d have enough money. Going into IT in industry out in the big wide world sounded somewhat interesting as second-choice option, since it should be easier with such skills to work anywhere in the world, and I still wanted to travel the world as well.

Once I finished the thesis in molecular ecology and graduated with a master’s degree in January 1998, I started looking for work whilst receiving unemployment benefit. IT companies only offered ‘conversion’ courses, such as a crash course in Cobol—the Y2K bug was alive and well—or some IT admin course, including Microsoft Certified System Engineer program (MCSE), with the catch that you’d have to keep working for the IT company for 3 years to pay off the debt of that training. That sounded like bonded labour and not particularly appealing.

Some day flicking through the newspapers on the lookout for interesting job offers, an advertisement caught my eye: a conversion course over a year for an MCSE consisting of five months full-time training and the rest of the year a practice period in industry whilst maintaining one’s unemployment benefit whose amount was just about sufficient to get by, and then all was paid off. A sizeable portion of funding came from the European Union. The programme was geared toward giving a second chance for basket cases, such as the long-term unemployed and the disabled. I was not a basket case, not yet at least. I tried nonetheless, applied for a position, and was invited for an interview. My main task was to try to convince them that I was basket case-like enough to qualify to be accepted in the programme, but good enough to pass fast and with good marks. The arguments worked and I was accepted for the programme. A foothold in the door.

We were a class of 16 people, 15 men and me the only woman. I completed the MCSE successfully, and then I also completed a range of other vocational training courses whilst employed in various IT jobs. Unix system administration, ITIL service management, a bit of Novell Netware and Cisco, and some more online self-study training sessions, which were all paid for by the companies I was employed at. The downside with those trainings, is that they all were, in my humble opinion, superficial and the how-to technology changes fast and the prospect or perpetual rote learning did not sound appealing to me. I wanted to know the underlying principles so that I wouldn’t have to keep updating myself with the latest trivia modification in an application. It was time to take the next step.

I was working for Eurologic Systems in Dublin, Ireland, at the time as a systems integration test engineer for fibre channel storage enclosures, which are boxes with many hard drives stacked up and connected for fast access to lots of data stored on the disks. They were a good employer, but they had only few training opportunities since it was an R&D company with experienced and highly educated engineers. I asked HR if I could sign up elsewhere, with, say, the Open University, and that they’d pay for some of it, maybe? “Yes,” the humane HR lady said, “that’s a good idea, and we’ll pay for every course you pass whilst in our employment.” Deal!

So, I enrolled with the Open University UK. I breezed through my first year even though I had skipped their 1st year courses and jumped straight into 2nd year courses. My second year went just as smoothly. The third year I paid myself, since I had opted for voluntary redundancy and was allowed to take it in the second round, since I wanted to get back on track of my original plan to go into bioinformatics. The dotcom bubble had burst and Eurologic could not escape some of its effects. While they were not fond of seeing me go, they knew I’d leave soon anyway and they were happy to see that the redundancy money would be put to good use to finish my Computing & IT degree. With that finished, I’d be able to finally do the bioinformatics that I was after since 1997, or so I thought.

My honours project was on database development, with a focus on conceptual data modelling languages. I rediscovered the Object-Role Modelling language from the lecture notes of the Saxion University of Applied Sciences that I had bought out of curiosity when I did the aforementioned MCSE course (in Enschede, the Netherlands). The database was about bacteriocins, which are produced by bacteria and they can be used in food for food safety and preservation. A first real step into bioinformatics. Bacteriocins have something to do with genes, too, and in searching for conceptual models about genes, I had stumbled into a new world in 2003, one with the Gene Ontology and the notion of ontologies to solve the data integration problem. Marking and marks processing took a bit longer than usual that year (the academics were on strike), and I was awarded the BSc(honours) degree (1st class) in March 2004. By that time, there were several bioinformatics conversion courses available. Ah, well.

The long route taken did give me some precious insight that no bioinformatics conversion top-up degree can give: a deeper understanding of indoctrination into disciplinary thinking and ways of doing science. That is, on what the respective mores are, how to question, how to identify a problem, looking at things, ways of answering questions and solving problems. Of course, when there’s, say, an experimental method, the principles of the methods are the same—hypothesis, set up experiment, do experiment, check results against hypothesis—as are some of the results processing tools the same (e.g., statistics), but there are substantive differences. For instance, in computing, you break down to problem, isolate it, and solve that piece of something that’s all human-made. In microbiology, it’s about trying to figure out how nature works, with all its interconnected parts that may interfere and complicate the picture. In the engineering side of food science, it was more along the line of, once we figure out what it does and what we really need, can we find something that does what we need or can we me make it do it to solve the problem? It doesn’t necessarily mean one is less cool; just different. And hard to explain to someone who has ever studied only one degree in one discipline, most of whom invariably have the ‘my way or the highway’ attitude or think everyone is homologous to them. If you manage to create the chance to do a second full degree, take it.

***

Who am I to say that a top-up degree is unlike the double indoctrination into a discipline’s mores? Because I also did a top-up degree, in yet another discipline. Besides studying for the last year in Computing & IT with a full-time load, I had also signed up for a conversion Master’s of Arts in Peace & Development studies at the University of Limerick, Ireland. The Computing & IT degree didn’t seem like it would be a lot of work, so I was looking for something to do on the side. I had also started exploring what to do after completing the degree, and in particular to maybe sign up for a masters or PhD in bioinformatics. And so it was that I stumbled upon the information about the Masters of Arts in Peace & Development studies in the postgraduate prospectus. Reading up on the aims and the courses, this coursework and dissertation masters looked like it might actually help me answer some questions I had that were nagging since I spent some time in Peru. Before going to Peru, I was a committed pacifist; violence doesn’t solve problems. Then Peru’s Moviemento Revolucionario de Tupac Amaru (MRTA) hijacked the Japanese embassy in Lima in late 1996 when I was in Lima. They were trying to draw attention to the plight of the people in the Andes and demanded more resources and investments there. I’d seen the situation there, with its malnutrition, limited potable water, and limited to no electricity, which was in stark contrast to the coastal region. The Peruvians I spoke to did not condone the MRTA’s methods, but they had a valid point, or so went the consensus. Can violence ever be justified? Maybe violence could be justified if all else had failed in trying to address injustices? If it is used, will it lead to something good, or merely a set-up for the next cycle of violence and oppression?

I clearly did not have a Bachelor of arts, but I had done some courses roughly in that area in my degree in Wageningen and had done a range of extra-curricular activities. Perhaps that, and more, would help me persuade the selection committee? I put it all in detail in the application form in the hope it would increase my chances to try to make it look like I could pull this off and be accepted into the programme. I was accepted into the programme. Yay. Afterwards, I heard from one of the professors that it had been an easy decision, “since you already have a Masters degree, of science, no less”. Also this door was opened thanks to that first degree I had obtained that was paid for by the state merely because I qualified for the tertiary education. The money to pay for this study came from my savings and the severance package from Eurologic. I had earned too much money in industry to qualify for state subsidy in Ireland; fair enough.

Doing the courses, I could feel I was missing the foundations, both regarding the content of some established theories here and there and in tackling things. By that time, I was immersed in computing, where you break down things in smaller sub-components and that systematising is also reflected in the reports you write. My essays and reports have sections and subsections and suitably itemised lists—Ordnung muss sein. But no, we’re in a fluffy humanities space and it should have been ‘verbal diarrhoea’. That was my interpretation of some essay feedback I had received, which claimed that there was too much structure and that it should have been one long piece of text without visually identifiable begin, middle, and end. That was early in the first semester. A few months into the programme, I thought that the only way I’d be able to pull off the dissertation, was to drag the topic as much as I could into an area that I was comparatively good at: modelling and maths.

That is: to stick with my disciplinary indoctrinations as much as possible, rather than fully descend into what to me still resembled mud and quicksand. For sure, there’s much more to the humanities than meets an average scientist’s eye, and I gained an appreciation of it during that degree, but that does not mean I was comfortable with it. In addition, for thesis topic choice, there were still the ‘terrorists’ I was looking for an answer to. Combine the two, and voila, my dissertation topic: applying game theory to peace negotiations in the so-called ‘terrorist theatre’. Prof. Moxon-Browne was not only a willing, but also eager, supervisor, and a great one at that. The fact that he could not wait to see my progress was a good stimulator to work and achieve that progress.

In the end, the dissertation had some ‘fluffy’ theory, some mathematical modelling, and some experimentation. It looked into three party negotiations cf. the common zero-sum approach in the literature: the government and two aggrieved groups, of which one was the politically-oriented one and the other one the violent one. For instance, in the case of South Africa, the Apartheid government on the one side and the ANC and the MK on the other side, and in case of Ireland, the UK/Northern Ireland government, Sinn Fein and the IRA. The strategic benefits of who teams up with whom during negotiations, if at all, depends on their relative strength: mathematically, in several identified power-dynamic circumstances, an aggrieved participant could obtain a larger slice of the pie for the victims if they were not in a coalition than if they were, and the desire, or not, for a coalition among aggrieved groups depended on their relative power. This deviated from the widespread assumption at the time that said that the aggrieved groups should always band together. I hoped it would still be enough for a pass.

It was awarded a distinction. It turned out that my approach was fairly novel. Perhaps therein lies a retort argument for the top-up degrees against the ‘do both’ advice I mentioned before: a fresh look on the matter, if not interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity. I can see it also with the dissertation topics of our conversion Masters in IT students as well. They’re all interesting and topics that perhaps no disciplinarian would have produced.

***

The final step, then. With a distinction in the MA in Peace & Development in my pocket and a first in the BSc(honours) in CS&IT at around the same time, what next? The humanities topics were becoming too depressing even with a detached scientific mind—too many devastating problems and too little agency to influence—and I had worked toward the plan to go into bioinformatics for so many years already. Looking for jobs in bioinformatics, they all demanded a PhD. With the knowledge and experience amassed studying for the two full degrees, I could do all those tasks they wanted the bioinformatician to do. However, without meeting that requirement for a PhD, there was no chance I’d make it through the first selection round. That’s what I thought at the time. I tried 1-2 regardless—reject because no PhD. Maybe I should have tried and applied more widely nonetheless, since, in hindsight, it was the system’s way of saying they wanted someone well-versed in both fields, not someone trained to become an academic, since most of those jobs are software development jobs anyway.

Disappointed that I still couldn’t be the bioinformatician I thought I would be able to be after those two degrees, I sighed and resigned to the idea that, gracious sakes, I’ll get that PhD, too, then, and defer the dream a little longer.

In a roundabout way I ended up at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (FUB), Italy. They paid for the scholarship and there was generous project funding to pay for conference attendance. Meanwhile in the bioinformatics field, things had moved on from databases for molecular biology to bio-ontologies to facilitate data integration. The KRDB research centre at FUB was into ontologies, but then rather from the logic side of things. Fairly soon after my commencement with the PhD studies, my supervisor, who did not even have a PhD in Computer Science, told me in no unclear terms that I was enrolled in a PhD in computer science, that my scientific contributions had to be in computer science, and if I wanted to do something in ‘bio-whatever’, that was fine, but that I’d have to do that in my own time. Crystal clear.

The `bio-whatever’ petered out, since I had to step up the computer science content because I had only three years to complete the PhD. On the bright side, passion will come the more you investigate something. Modelling, with some examples in bio, and ontologies and conceptual modelling it was. I completed my PhD in three year(-ish); fully indoctrinated in the computer science way. Journey completed.

***

I’ve not yet mentioned the design I indicated at the start of the blog post. It has nothing to do with moving into computer science. At all. Weaving in the interior design into the narrative didn’t work well, and it falls under the “vocational training courses whilst employed in various IT jobs” phrase earlier on. The costs of the associate diploma at the Portobello Institute in Dublin? I earned most of the costs (1200 pound or so? I can’t recall exactly, but it was somewhere between 1-2K) together in a week: we got double pay for working a shift on New Year (the year 2000 no less) and then I volunteered for the double pay for 12h shifts instead of regular 8h shifts for the week thereafter. One week extra work for an interesting hobby in the evening hours for a year was a good deal in my opinion, and it allowed me to explore whether I liked the topic as much as I thought I might in secondary school. I passed with a distinction and also got Rhodec certified. I still enjoy playing around with interiors, as hobby, and have given up the initial idea (in 1999) to use IT with it, since tangible samples work fine.

So, yes, I really have completed degrees in science, engineering, and political science straddling into humanities, and a little bit of the arts. A substantial chunck was paid for by the state (‘full scholarships’), companies chimed in as well, and I paid some of it from my hard earned money. On the motivations for the journey: I hope I made that clear despite cutting out some text in an attempt to reduce the post’s length. (Getting into university in the first place and staying in academia after completing a PhD are two different stories altogether, and left for another time.)

I still have many questions, but I also realise that many will remain unanswered even if the answer is known to humanity already, since to live means it’s finite and there’s simply not enough time to learn everything. In any case: do study what you want, not what anyone tells you to study. If the choice is a study or, say, a down payment on a mortgage for a house, then if completing the study will give good prospects and relieves you from a job you are not aiming for, go for it—that house may be bought later and be a tad bit smaller. It’s your life you’re living, not someone else’s.

Reblogging 2011: Essay on the Nonviolent Personality

From the “10 years of keetblog – reblogging: 2011”: of the general interest ones, this was most definitely the one that has taken up most time—not to write the post, but what it talks about: it reports on the Italian->English translation of a booklet “The nonviolent personality”, which took over 2 years to complete. Giuliano Pontara, whom I had the pleasure to finally meet in person in Stockholm last October, wrote the original in Italian. 

Essay on the Nonviolent Personality; March 3

———-

La personalità nonviolenta—the nonviolent personality—is the title of a booklet I stumbled upon in a bookshop in Trento in spring 2004 whilst being in the city for my internship at the Laboratory for Applied Ontology. The title immediately raises the question: what, then, actually does constitute a nonviolent personality? The author of the booklet, Giuliano Pontara, since recently an emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, aims to contribute to answer this question that certainly does not have simple answer.

The booklet itself is out of print (having been published in 1996) and, moreover, written in Italian, which most people in the world cannot understand. However, in my opinion at least, Pontara’s proposed answer certainly deserves a wider audience, contemplation, and further investigation. So I set out to translate it into English and put it online for free. That took a while to accomplish, and the last year was certainly the most interesting one with multiple email exchanges with Giuliano Pontara about the finer details of the semantics of the words and sentences in both the Italian original and the English translation. Now here it is: The Nonviolent Personality [pdf, 1.7MB] (low bandwidth version [pdf, 287KB]).

So what is it about? Here is the new back flap summary of the booklet:

At the beginning of the new century, the culture of peace finds itself facing many and difficult challenges. This booklet surveys some of these challenges and the characteristics that a mature culture of peace should have in order to respond to them. Particularly, it investigates what type of person is more apt to be a carrier of such a mature culture of peace: the nonviolent personality. Finally, it addresses the question regarding the factors that in the educative process tend to impede and favour, respectively, the development of moral subjects equipped with a nonviolent personality.

The original Italian version was written by Giuliano Pontara, emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, and published in 1996, but its message is certainly not outdated and perhaps even more important in the current climate. Why this is so, and why it is useful to have a more widely accessible version of the booklet available, is motivated in the introduction by Maria Keet, Senior Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

A slightly longer description

The first chapter of the book, having been written in the mid-nineties, discusses the then-current political situation in the world. Pontara describes the post-Cold War situation, touches upon separatism, nationalism, fundamentalism, exploitation and totalitarian capitalism (among other challenges). This includes the “cow-boy ethics” and the return of the Nazi mentality, the latter not being about Arian supremacy, but the glorification of force (and violence in general) and contempt for ‘the weak’, the might-is-right adagio, and that cow-boy ethics has been elevated to prime principle of conducting international politics. You can analyse and decide yourself if the shoe fits for a particular country’s culture and politics, be it then or now. After this rather gloomy first chapter, the first step toward a positive outlook is described in Chapter 2, which looks at several basic features of a mature culture of peace.

The core of the booklet is Chapter 3, which commences with listing ten characteristics of a nonviolent personality:

  • Rejection of violence
  • The capability to identify violence
  • The capability to have empathy
  • Refusal of authority
  • Trust in others
  • The disposition to communicate
  • Mildness
  • Courage
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Patience

These characteristics are discussed in detail in the remainder of the chapter. Read it if you want to know what is meant with these characteristics, and why.

Chapter 4 considers education at school, at home, and through other influences (such as the TV), describing both the problems in the present systems and what can to be done to change it. For example, educating students to develop a critical moral conscience, analyse, and to be able to think for oneself (as opposed to rote-learning in a degree-factory), not taking a dualistic approach but facilitating creative constructive solutions instead, and creating an atmosphere that prevents the numbing of conscience, the weakness of the senses, consumerism, and conformism of the mass-media. Also some suggestions for class activities are suggested, but note that education does not end there: it is a continuous process in life.

The English writing style may not be perfect (the spelling and grammar checkers do not complain though); either way, it tries to strike a balance between the writing style of the original and readability of the English text. And no, the translation was not done with Google translate or a similar feature, but manually and there are some notes on the translation at the end of the new booklet. Other changes or additions compared to the Italian original are the new foreword by Pontara and introduction by me, an index, bibliography in alphabetical order and several Italian translations in the original have been substituted with the original English reference, and there are biographical sketches. I did the editing and typesetting in Latex, so it looks nice and presentable.

Last, but not least:
Creative Commons License
The Nonviolent Personality by Maria Keet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Essay on the Nonviolent Personality

La personalità nonviolenta—the nonviolent personality—is the title of a booklet I stumbled upon in a bookshop in Trento in spring 2004 whilst being in the city for my internship at the Laboratory for Applied Ontology. The title immediately raises the question: what, then, actually does constitute a nonviolent personality? The author of the booklet, Giuliano Pontara, since recently an emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, aims to contribute to answer this question that certainly does not have simple answer.

The booklet itself is out of print (having been published in 1996) and, moreover, written in Italian, which most people in the world cannot understand. However, in my opinion at least, Pontara’s proposed answer certainly deserves a wider audience, contemplation, and further investigation. So I set out to translate it into English and put it online for free. That took a while to accomplish, and the last year was certainly the most interesting one with multiple email exchanges with Giuliano Pontara about the finer details of the semantics of the words and sentences in both the Italian original and the English translation. Now here it is: The Nonviolent Personality [pdf, 1.7MB] (low bandwidth version [pdf, 287KB]).

So what is it about? Here is the new back flap summary of the booklet:

At the beginning of the new century, the culture of peace finds itself facing many and difficult challenges. This booklet surveys some of these challenges and the characteristics that a mature culture of peace should have in order to respond to them. Particularly, it investigates what type of person is more apt to be a carrier of such a mature culture of peace: the nonviolent personality. Finally, it addresses the question regarding the factors that in the educative process tend to impede and favour, respectively, the development of moral subjects equipped with a nonviolent personality.

The original Italian version was written by Giuliano Pontara, emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Stockholm, and published in 1996, but its message is certainly not outdated and perhaps even more important in the current climate. Why this is so, and why it is useful to have a more widely accessible version of the booklet available, is motivated in the introduction by Maria Keet, Senior Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

A slightly longer description

The first chapter of the book, having been written in the mid-nineties, discusses the then-current political situation in the world. Pontara describes the post-Cold War situation, touches upon separatism, nationalism, fundamentalism, exploitation and totalitarian capitalism (among other challenges). This includes the “cow-boy ethics” and the return of the Nazi mentality, the latter not being about Arian supremacy, but the glorification of force (and violence in general) and contempt for ‘the weak’, the might-is-right adagio, and that cow-boy ethics has been elevated to prime principle of conducting international politics. You can analyse and decide yourself if the shoe fits for a particular country’s culture and politics, be it then or now. After this rather gloomy first chapter, the first step toward a positive outlook is described in Chapter 2, which looks at several basic features of a mature culture of peace.

The core of the booklet is Chapter 3, which commences with listing ten characteristics of a nonviolent personality:

  • Rejection of violence
  • The capability to identify violence
  • The capability to have empathy
  • Refusal of authority
  • Trust in others
  • The disposition to communicate
  • Mildness
  • Courage
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Patience

These characteristics are discussed in detail in the remainder of the chapter. Read it if you want to know what is meant with these characteristics, and why.

Chapter 4 considers education at school, at home, and through other influences (such as the TV), describing both the problems in the present systems and what can to be done to change it. For example, educating students to develop a critical moral conscience, analyse, and to be able to think for oneself (as opposed to rote-learning in a degree-factory), not taking a dualistic approach but facilitating creative constructive solutions instead, and creating an atmosphere that prevents the numbing of conscience, the weakness of the senses, consumerism, and conformism of the mass-media. Also some suggestions for class activities are suggested, but note that education does not end there: it is a continuous process in life.

The English writing style may not be perfect (the spelling and grammar checkers do not complain though); either way, it tries to strike a balance between the writing style of the original and readability of the English text. And no, the translation was not done with Google translate or a similar feature, but manually and there are some notes on the translation at the end of the new booklet. Other changes or additions compared to the Italian original are the new foreword by Pontara and introduction by me, an index, bibliography in alphabetical order and several Italian translations in the original have been substituted with the original English reference, and there are biographical sketches. I did the editing and typesetting in Latex, so it looks nice and presentable.

Last, but not least:
Creative Commons License
The Nonviolent Personality by Maria Keet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

ICT, Africa, peace, and gender

Just in case you thought that the terms in the title are rather eclectic, or even mutually exclusive, then you are wrong. ICT4Peace is a well-known combination, likewise for other organisations and events, such as the ICT for peace symposium in the Netherlands that I wrote about earlier. ICT & development activities, e.g., by Informatici Senza Frontiere, and ICT & Africa (or here or here, among many sites) is also well-known. There is even more material for ICT & gender. But what, then, about the combination of them?

Shastry Njeru sees links between them and many possibilities to put ICT to good use in Africa to enhance peaceful societies and post-conflict reconstruction where women play a pivotal role [1]. Not that much has been realized yet; so, if you are ever short on research or implementation topics, then Njeru’s paper undoubtedly will provide you with more topics than you can handle.

So, what, then, can ICT be used for in peacebuilding, in Africa, by women? One topic that features prominently in Njeru’s paper is communication among women to share experiences, exchange information, build communities, keep in contact, have  “discussion in virtual spaces, even when physical, real world meetings are impossible on account of geographical distance or political sensitivities” and so forth, using skype, blogs and other Web 2.0 tools such as Flickr, podcasts, etc., Internet access in their own language, and voice and video to text hardware and software to record the oral histories. A more general suggestion, i.e., not necessarily related to only women or only Africa is that “ICT for peacebuilding should form the repository for documents, press releases and other information related to the peace process”.

Some examples of what has been achieved already are: the use of mobile phone networks in Zambia to advocate women’s rights, Internet access for women entrepreneurs in textile industries in Douala in Cameroon, and ICT and mobile phone businesses are used as instruments of change by rural women in various ways in Uganda [1], including the Ugandan CD-ROM project [2].

Njeru thinks that everything can be done already with existing technologies that have to be used more creatively and such that there are policies, programmes, and funds that can overcome the social, political, and economic hurdles to realise the gendered ICT for peace in Africa. Hardware, maybe yes, but surely not software.

Regarding the hardware, mobile phone usage is growing fast (some reasons why) and Samsung, Sharp and Sanyo have jumped on board already with the solar panel-fuelled mobile phones to solve the problem of (lack of reliable) energy supply. The EeePc and the one laptop per child projects and the likes are nothing new either, nor are the palm pilots that are used for OpenMRS’s electronic health records in rural areas in, among others, Kenya. But this is not my area of expertise, so I will leave it to the hardware developers for the final [yes/no] on the question if extant hardware suffices.

Regarding software, developing a repository for the documents, press releases etc. is doable with current software as well, but a usable repository requires insight into how then the interfaces have to be designed so that it suits best for the intended users and how the data should be searched; thus, overall, it may not be simply a case of deployment of software, but also involve development of new applications. Internet access, including those Web 2.0 applications, in one’s own language requires localization of the software and a good strategy on how one can coordinate and maintain such software. This is very well doable, but it is not already lying on the shelf waiting to be deployed.

More challenging will be figuring out the best way to manage all the multimedia of photos, video reports, logged skype meetings and so forth. If one does not annotate them, then they are bound to end up in a ‘write-only’ data silo. However, those reports should not be (nor have been) made to merely save them, but one also should be able to find, retrieve, and use the information contained in them. A quick-and-dirty tagging system or somewhat more sophisticated wisdom-of-the-crowds tagging methods might work in the short term, but it will not in the long run, and thereby still letting those inadequately annotated multimedia pieces getting dust. An obvious direction for a solution is to create the annotation mechanism and develop an ontology about conflict & peacebuilding, develop a software system to put the two together, develop applications to access the properly annotated material, and train the annotators. This easily can take up the time and resources of an EU FP7 Integrated Project.

Undoubtedly, observation of current practices, their limitations, and subsequent requirements analysis will bring afore more creative opportunities of usage of ICT in a peacebuilding setting targeting women as the, mostly untapped, prime user base. A quick search on ICT jobs in Africa or peacebuilding (on the UN system and its affiliated organizations, and the NGO industry) to see if the existing structures invest in this area did not show anything other than jobs at their respective headquarters such as website development, network administration, or ICT group team leader. Maybe upper management does not realise the potential, or it is seen merely as an afterthought? Or maybe more grassroots initiatives have to be set up, be successful, and then organisations will come on board and devote resources to it? Or perhaps companies and venture capital should be more daring and give it a try—mobile phone companies already make a profit and some ‘philanthropy’ does well for a company’s image anyway—and there is always the option to take away some money from the military-industrial complex.

Whose responsibility would it be (if any) to take the lead (if necessary) in such endeavours? Either way, given that investment in green technologies can be positioned as a way out of the recession, then so can it be for ICT for peace(building) aimed at women, be they in Africa or other continents where people suffer from conflicts or are in the process of reconciliation and peacebuilding. One just has to divert the focus of ICT for destruction, fear-moderation, and the likes to one of ICT for constructive engagement, aiming at inclusive technologies and those applications that facilitate development of societies and empower people.

References

[1] Shastry Njeru. (2009). Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Gender, and Peacebuilding in Africa: A Case of Missed Connections. Peace & Conflict Review, 3(2), 32-40.

[2] Huyer S and Sikoska T. (2003). Overcoming the Gender Digital Divide: Understanding the ICTs and their potential for the Empowerment of Women. United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), Instraw Research Paper Series No. 1., 36p.

A look ahead to the 25th of November

Somehow, even after living 4 years in Italy, this country still does not cease to surprise me. People from abroad regularly ask me how it is to live in a country that invented the mafia, be it the Sicilian one or variations on the theme such as the Camorra in Naples or ‘ndragheta in Calabria. Media attention flares up now and then, but up north here, one notices little of it. To compare figures: according to the Eures 2007 report about 2006 statistics of Italy, it appears that more people are killed in the confinement between domestic walls within the nuclear family than at the hands of the mafia, and comparatively more domestic homicides in the north of Italy than elsewhere—94 vs. 62 in the south and 39 in the centre of the country[1]. Hence, the problems here are not organized and at one’s doorstep but are within the space of the four walls that is supposed to be a safe and comforting retreat.

Grouping the data by another category, gender, reveals that 134 of the 195 victims are women. Italian’s Istat 2006 statistics add further that there were 6.7 million registered cases of violence against women, of which 70% in the family environment, but that only 1% of the perpetrators is convicted; that much for an indication of facing a systemic problem. This brings me back to the title of this post: the 25th of November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (see also UNIFEM’s facts & figures). If an international day calling attention to the problems changes anything, I don’t know. In Italy, the 2006 figures for familial homicide were up 12.5% compared to 2005.

Perhaps taking into consideration how it came about that it is on the 25th of November, might. Three of the four sisters Mirabal were executed on 25 November 1960 by the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal were to a greater or lesser extent part of the resistance against the dictatorial oppression, which the terrorizing state apparatus obviously did not appreciate. Julia Alvarez’ book “In the time of the butterflies” provides a very readable (romanticized) account of the sisters’ lives (their code name was las mariposas, which means `the butterflies’ in Spanish). Hence, this day is actually not only to commemorate courageous women’s struggle against oppression, but also to draw attention to the struggle against injustice in general.

In closing, I’m pulling a quote from a different source and framework for societal organization, which is relevant globally anyway:

“If human beings can learn to order their homes justly so that the human rights of all within its jurisdiction—children, women, and men—are safeguarded, then they can also order their society and the world at large, justly.”


[1] The Eures and Istat data are the digested data as reported in the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, “l’horror tra le mura domestiche”, page 5, d.d. 22-11-2008.

p.s.: the limited wordpress tagging system cuts off the display of long tags, the system itself deals with it as it is supposed to. In casu, the display of “International Day for the Elimination of Violence again” is actually the tag “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women“…

p.p.s.: In addition to UNIFEM’s campaign, here’s an ICT-related one:
Take Back The Tech

ICT for Peace Symposium in the Netherlands

In contrast to the previous event with a similar title (discussed here), this symposium really and honestly did have ICT for Peace as scope. The “Gaming for War or Peace: ICT voor Wereldvrede” Symposium, d.d. 4 Nov 2008, was organized by the Peace Centre Eindhoven. I was one of the four invited speakers, with as topic game theory and conflict resolution.

The first presentation was given by Antoine van den Beemt, who focused on the gaming industry, how youth deals with the violence in the games, and the more constructive, learning-oriented games, where learning is to be understood not in terms of how-to-kill but how-to-collaborate and build some virtual whatever together. Both from the questions and the forum discussion afterward, I do not think he has fully convinced the attendees of the usefulness of computer games. For instance, he claimed that it is ok to use a (any?) computer game to release one’s anger and frustration, to which the chair responded that an electronic drum kit works just as fine (or doing sports, etc.) and an attendee noted that it does not address the root of the problem.

My presentation was about ‘games against terrorism and for conflict resolution’, or: coalition formation among some but not all players during peace negotiations between terrorist groups and the government. It was partially based on a section of my MA thesis on terrorism & game theory and augmented with newer results, and has a very brief look ahead from the AI perspective as to what more could be in store with computational game theory (slides in Dutch and its summary in English). As expected, criticism was voiced that not enough variables were taken into account, like that psychology was set aside and not incorporated in the formulas. And, clearly, [computational] game theory is not a solver of it self, but a facilitator that helps gaining better insight in, understanding better, the situation, so as to form better informed opinions and choose strategies accordingly and that it also may offer simulations of possible resolution scenarios so as to make sensible moves instead of just ‘randomly’ trying out another one. Well, that is the idea, not that all those software simulators for politics exist already.

The third presenter was Tomas Baum, Director of the Flemish Peace Institute (Vlaams Vredesinstituut), who elaborated on the trials and tribulations of setting up a database about arms trafficking. Philosopher by education, he seemed to be more in his element during the panel discussion where more fundamental issues were raised on ethics, peace, education, and research.

The last presenter before the panel discussion George van der Meulen of Compuplan at the Polytechnic University of Eindhoven TU/e. He had many pictures of working GIS software that is being used in socio-political settings to settle land disputes, achieve cross-border collaborations, and so forth.

As alluded to above, the panel discussion was lively with plenty of questions, comments, and opinions from the attendees as well as the panelists (the 4 speakers). What we all could agree on within the scope of the theme, is that ICT is always no more than a facilitator for peace. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to properly address the three questions Peter Schmid, chairperson of the Peace Centre Eindhoven, had set out at the start. Homework, perhaps? The questions are as follows:

  1. Could possible future wars be fought and ended online, so that the spilling of blood (i.e., injuries and deaths) can be avoided?
  2. Will the density of an immense and, at least partially, wise stream of information help to achieve a peaceful society and world peace?
  3. How can ICT, perhaps playfully, contribute to a sustainable peace and sustainable development?

IFIP TC9 workshop on ICT uses in war and not-peace

I had the honour of being allowed to attend the IFIP TC 9 (“relationship between Computers and Society”) Workshop on “ICT uses in Warfare and the Safeguarding of Peace” yesterday, which was held at the CSIR Convention Center in Pretoria, South Africa, that covered an array of topics, such as cyber threats, network warfare, ICT for command & control and for socio-tech, and militarizing the FIFA Worldcup 2010, summarized further below and sandwiched between general comments on IT and the military.

Pre-workshop event and considerations

Beforehand, there had occurred some attempts to ‘massage’ me, in that one of the organisers already had figured out that, possibly, I would not be interested in the second part of the workshop that would focus on ICT for destruction and damage control, and I had participated in a meeting with the CSIR Department of peace, Safety & Security (DPSS) earlier in the week, of which they thought I might be interested—in contributing my knowledge to enhance, as it unfolded during that meeting, the PsyOps section as part of Information Warfare. PsyOps is an abbreviation for Psychological Operations, which is a euphemism for (1) torturing detainees to beyond breaking point, which does not leave physical scars so proving it in court is more difficult[n1], (2) mind manipulation of the masses-at-home to swallow all sorts of things that either violate the country’s constitution (magna carta, whichever), or UN declaration of Human Rights, or fall under plain propaganda to distort reality. (3) mentally preparing and patching up soldiers for battlefield operations. Not surprisingly, a psychologist signing up for PsyOps has to de-register from the list of accredited psychologists (at least, in South Africa they have to).

Unfortunately also not surprisingly, some of the computer science attendees of that meeting were not against hooking up with the DPSS for enhancing PsyOps; after all, PsyOps has project money to give away. Researchers and engineers hooking up with third parties—be it the military or industry that produces for the military—is a well-known thing (barely an issue) in computer science and engineering, as well as in other disciplines (though to a lesser extent), for there is plenty of money to burn, unlike government funding (in Italy, the Berlusconi government even has reduced the amount of project funds, and they were already at the bottom in the OECD %GDP raking).
Setting aside the US, of which hearsay says that at least 80% of computer science research is funded by the military or military-industrial complex, I could equally take an example in Europe, though not exemplary for all of the European Union member states (!!): some history [1], an analysis that shows that 31% of UK government funding goes to military type of projects [2], and, more recently, Nature spent another article on the topic of which the title says quite a lot, being “UK Universities in bed with military” [3] where it is not just the amount of collaboration but also the secrecy around it that raises several issues, and yet another, scholarly, paper that looks at the links between universities and the military with its focus on destruction [4]. Regarding the latter, it is not necessarily the case that the military focuses on destruction. This is partially due, or thanks to, the UN Peace Support Operations (PSOs), which include also peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In the case of the above-mentioned DPSS meeting, it is intended, however, to be the peace making and peace enforcing type of PSOs—“those that are actually war”, to quote organizer Leenen.

The workshop

Now, after the ‘massaging’ attempts earlier in the week, let us take a look at the IFIP workshop on war and not-peace, which, in fact, does not suit well with the TC9 description on computers and society—that what war destroys, among other things; hence, we would have a ‘TC9 on computers and anything as long as it is not society’.
Anyhow, the first stream in the morning was about socio-technical aspects, which was content-wise rather behind on available theory of PSOs. Noteworthy was Col. Xaba’s correction of a comment by Maj. Dr. Falkson’s talk about emotional factors in PSOs (including a slide on “African warrior role exposure” and differences between “war fighting” and PSO-er). Falkson showed a photo of blue-helmets in a crowded street, saying that this gives high stress to the soldier/peacekeeper because it is difficult to identify the enemy. Correctly so, Col. Xaba pointed out that in PSOs, and peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations in particular, there are no enemies from the viewpoint of a blue-helmet; at least: according to PSO doctrine there none. But, as it seemed, he was the only defence person who had a notion of PSO principles. Ben du Toit of the Defence Institute talked about cultural issues, without realizing he is well-embedded in one himself, being the military tunnel vision that states that resorting to violent ‘solutions’ is unavoidable. On the flipside, he is aware of ICT4Peace, analysed the notion of the “cultural smartie box”, and added the relatively new term ethnocomputing. Prof. von Solms, IFIP president, looked at critical information infrastructure (CII) management and tried to get the message across through scaremongering that CII failure can “cause” war. It might help in being the last straw, but the occasional temporal inconvenience of, say, denial of service attacks on government websites or ATM machines is unlikely going to cause a revolution on its own (I’m not asking you to disprove this assumption!). Simon Nare elaborated more on a “Computer Security Incident Response Team”, though upon probing the defence people as to their interest, Col. Coetzee was only “taking note of the information”. A buyers market?

Lt. Col. Theron demonstrated his joys regarding the chaos of operational battlespace visually, with battle photos, and moving and swishing figurines in the ppt presentation. The comment aside on the Information Warfare layers—being the communications grid, physical network, command and control, and doctrine—that doctrine is often copied from the US one, which therefore makes the non-US defence forces vulnerable [know thy enemy], was not lost, neither the sarcasm of the ‘alternative’ US OODA loop (Orientate, Overreact, Destroy, and Apologise). All in all, they seem to have a rather large information integration problem, which was discussed in more detail by Harris who is working on an “integrated development environment” (IDE) to hook up hardware and software across Joint Operations divisions. There is still a lot of work to do in that area. There is a basic version of this IDE as “command and control environment” already, which a gullible CSIR systems engineer, Venter, would like to test during “big events”, such as the FIFA Worldcup, to be held in South Africa in 2010—after all, a world cup is just like war and one surely would need to “have a 3-block war approach”, according to Venter. He even foresaw soldiers patrolling and interacting with fans, hooligans, and more of those terror and crime suspects. So, at the end, I could not resist throwing in a few comments, by first asking if he actually realized he was trying to militarize a civilian event, upon which he drew a blank. He’s been indoctrinated effectively, I suppose. Arrogant Maj. Gen. (Ret) Dr. M. du Toit jumped in to try to lecture me in a condescending tone that the defence is only part of the whole command and control operation—uhh, not of the event management, cross-organizational coordination, and co-operation?! It may well be the case it is one of the 7 pillars—and hopefully they all did get the message that soldiers harassing soccer fans isn’t a good idea at all and, in fact, is asking for trouble—but my point was that the gullible systems engineer was brainwashed. His boss, Harris, also took a more nuanced position, in a civilised, humane way. Perhaps the “Maj. Gen. (Ret) Dr.” is the cause of insistence on unidirectional chat against a young, female, civilian researcher; either way, it does not make him suitable for non-WarDefence interactions and events.

Last, Naude and Voster had nice reflections on trying to define Information Warfare. They discussed the lack of a widely accepted definition and the “US and UK-dominated wikipedia definition of Information Warfare” that includes “…propaganda or disinformation…”, and, according to Naude, most of the Information Warfare material comes from the USA, whereas it is unknown what other countries are doing, if anything, other than copying the US; hence, the current wiki definition might as well be recursive, in that the definition and related material itself is disinformation. The fantastic “sense making” might as well be, as it effectively demands, as a minimum (!), that most, if not all, artificial intelligence problems have to be solved to get a “sense making environment” up and running.

As for a next time of an IFIP TC9 WG 9.4 workshop, to have the “…safeguarding of peace”-part of the workshop scope properly included, as well as to have more ‘entertainment’ during the workshop by inviting people with more diverse backgrounds, the organisers may want to consider sourcing people from, among others, ICT4peace for engineering aspects and the UN-mandated UPeace for peace education and research to provide a balance that, in theory, the defence forces ought to have provided already, given that “war fighting” is only one of the five pillars (in the South African constitution, at least). In addition, it would be a rather dubious ‘honour’ and legacy of the organisers and current IFIP president (Prof. Solms from South Africa—the first African IFIP president) to be the ones who took the lead in institutionalizing an “ICT uses in warfare” Work Group in IFIP. Last, given that IFIP events are, as far as I know, civilian events, there ought not be a perceived need to instruct the defence people[n2] that one of the organizers was the “commander in chief for the day”—who, if that was not clear enough already, was ‘overlooked’ by Col. Xaba as counting as a woman because “her dress was too straight”, i.e. not feminine and sexy enough; proper education—or should I say, indoctrination—conformant to the now supposedly multifunctional defence forces is an area were there is still plenty of work to do.

UPDATE (Aug 11, 2008): the proceedings and presentations etc of the workshop are online now, in case you wnat to have a look at it yourself.

Last, but not least

Clearly, the whole issue of responsibility—is the scientist who discovers x responsible, or the engineer that uses it in a malicious way, or the government that deploys it, or the masses that do not complain—and the ‘what do you want to do with your knowledge’ is not new at all, but after the fall of the Berlin wall it got pushed to behind the scenes, whilst quietly a growing amount of money for military research is being made available. Some people do stand up, even get organised in a collective of scientists for global responsibility, but, thus far and in the vast majority of cases, the siren of short-term research funding wins it over any moral obligation to use knowledge responsibly.
Should one reform the scientists, engineers, research funding policy, or wake up the masses? This ‘million dollar question’ is out for a long time already, but that does not mean one can stick one’s head in the sand and take blood-stained research money until there is a final solution. Of course, with that kind of research funding in your pocket, you could say “In research, I don’t do politics and I don’t take sides…”, but that just means you are indifferent who gets harassed, bugged, occupied, tortured, and killed more efficiently; hence, by the same logic—despite how implausible it might seem now—it might just be used against you or your loved ones some day, too, so you can swallow the bitter pill of reaping what you sow.
Or you can take the other pill, and use your knowledge constructively to, say, use computers for benefit the environment, facilitate biosciences to understand nature, for stability of society—of an open society—or at least for the post-war reconstruction efforts to clean up the disasters that warmongers leave behind and contribute to planting the seeds for a, or nurturing a budding, stable society to achieve positive peace.

[1] book review of “Surviving the Swastika; Scientific Research in Nazi Germany” by Kristie Macrakis. NY: Oxford University Press, 1993. 280 pages.
[2] Ball, Philip. (2005). Science lobby urges UK to divert funds from military fields. Nature, 433: 184.
[3] Brumfiel, Geoff. (2008). UK Universities in bed with military. Nature, 453: 967.
[4] Chris Langley. (2008). Universities, the military and the means of destruction in the United Kingdom. The Economics of Peace and Security Journal, 3(1): 49-55.
[5] Forrest, Drew. (2008). The nature of greatness. Mail & Guardian, 24(29): 14.

———-

note1: To give an example of antique, early days PsyOps experiments: Nelson Mandela was “swinging a pick in a lime quarry, half-blinded by the glare”, for no purpose whatsoever, each day, for 13 years in a row, in an attempt to crush the morale of political prisoners [5]. Those things are calculable and can be simply demonstrated by physical damage to the eyes, unlike, say, humiliation, severe sleep deprivation (which distorts the sense of what’s real and what not and make you go crazy), and the like.

note2: Once a soldier always a soldier, 24/7, regardless if s/he participates in non-military events?