The eugenics controversy

The current debate on the re-emergence of eugenics is worrying, as most of its proponents seem to be urging for gene manipulation for higher intelligence and beauty, while only a few are concerned with its dystopian implications.
Plato was the first to develop the idea of eugenics, which literally means ‘good race/stock’, to improve the human race through controlled and selective mating. In ancient Greece, if a child was considered incapable of living independently by the city elders he was either executed or exposed to the elements to die. Similarly, the Fourth Law of the Roman Republic stated that deformed children must be put to death, and patriarchs could discard infants at their discretion.
Thus, disability has always been seen as an aberration of the natural order of things. With the advent of religion, local communities and religious institutions looked after lepers and people with physical and intellectual disabilities. In the 17th and 18th centuries, lazar and leper houses, infirmaries, hospitals, charities and retreats were built for people with disabilities, but these institutions could not change attitudes towards them.
In the 19th century, Darwin published his Origin of the Species, which led Sir Francis Galton to revive the theory of eugenics in 1865 on the basis that the theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest precluded care for the disabled. Social Darwinists believed that ‘unfit’ people should be wiped out to make way for evolution of superior human beings. This led to the enactment of the first disability policy in the US in 1883, preventing people with disabilities from marrying and procreating, and introducing enforced sterilisation.
Disability has always been seen as an aberration. Eugenics was supported by Charles Davenport, the Carnegie Institute, presidents of Harvard and Stanford Universities, and the Wharton School to restrict immigration of non-Nordic races into the US. In Japan, the National Eugenic Law was promulgated in 1940 under which sterilisation could be carried out on criminals, albinos, epileptics and patients with mental illnesses.
In its heyday in Britain, eugenics attracted eminent people like Julian Huxley, G.B. Shaw, Stephen Webb H.G. Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Havelock Ellis, Bertrand Russell, Winston Churchill and even William Beveridge, the founder of the welfare state in England. It also enabled the enactment in England of the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act, which allowed segregation of the ‘feeble minded’ and their selective sterilisation.
In Nazi Germany, under the principle of ‘racial hygiene’, experimentation was carried out on living human beings and ‘human material’ was gathered from the notorious Auschwitz camp. In 1939, the programme was initially aimed at children under three with disabilities and people with psychiatric conditions in state-run hospitals and institutions. However, forced sterilisation was carried out on around 400,000 people, and between 100,000 to 200,000 institutionalized persons with disabilities were killed through euthanasia, lethal injections and gas.
It was only after the Second World War and in reaction to these heinous crimes that eugenics became unpopular. It was replaced by social biology, followed by anthropology, biology and biogenetics. In the meantime, many countries including the US, UK, Canada, Switzerland and Sweden continued to sterilise ‘unfit’ people until the 1970s. Even today, people with disabilities continue to face systemic and systematic apartheid despite many UN resolutions and conventions on medical ethics and the rights of persons with disabilities.
Today, the debate is whether to restrict genetic engineering to reduce the incidence of disability or whet­her this kind of med­dling will open up a Pandora’s box of moral and practical issues. While embryo selection may make people more resistant to disease, it will also inevitably lead to the misuse of technology, for instance, sex selection, or increasing IQ levels of certain populations for political reasons.
It is also argued that the future of human and other species may become unpredictable as a result of precipitate scientific interventions as has happened in the case of nuclear science, global warming and environmental degradation.
However, screening policies for couples in Cyprus have helped to reduce the ratio of children born with thalassaemia to almost zero, while in Israel, genetic tests have helped to control hereditary diseases such as Tay-Sachs. DNA mutations can be reduced through bio and stem cell technology to prevent seizures, strokes, visual and hearing impairments, and other serious conditions.
With these scientific breakthroughs, the anti-eugenics movement propounding human diversity has little support from parents of children with disabilities in poor countries where less than one per cent of persons with disabilities are able to live in dignity or achieve their potential. If medical science is about stopping nature from destroying the body and mind, the restricted use of eugenics can perhaps help to at least reduce the incidence of disabilities in the future.

Explicating the concept of ‘nishkama karma’

Philosophers have been trying to interpret ‘nishkama karma’ as a spiritual ideal for centuries. In the great epic Mahabharata, Arjun, one of the five Pandavas, puts down his weapons and refuses to fight in the ongoing war. He is filled with anguish at the sight of his loved ones, the elders in particular, for whom he has great affection. The prospect of fighting the blameless and killing his kinsmen fills him with a strange pity. ‘I shall not fight’, he declares, leaving his charioteer Krishna dumbfounded.
Krishna reminds Arjun that, this is no ordinary battlefield (Kurukshetra), it is also a moral field (Dharamkshetra). The war was waged as the last resort when all other alternatives had been exhausted. Arjun is aware that his cause is just and yet he cannot transcend his human emotions. Krishna tries several arguments to persuade Arjun to fight. One of these is a truly novel moral argument based on action. Krishna knows that Arjun is a man of action, so he exhorts him to act for the sake of his duty, without any thought to the consequences. Krishna believes that the moral worth of an action lies in a persons motive rather than in the consequences of the action. He speaks thus, ‘Be intent on the action, not on the fruits of action’.
This moral insight is also called ‘nishkama karma’ or disinterested action. Eknath Easwarana translates it as – “You have the right to work, but never to the fruits of work.” Krishna condemns ‘desire’ motivated acts as conducive to rebirth and believes that any action performed in ‘selfless spirit’ is virtuous and will not accumulate karma. This infact is the basic premise of ‘nishkama karma’.
Arjun is now caught between his svadharma (his duty as a kshatriya warrior, which is to fight a ‘righteous war’) and sadharana dharma (the duty of his conscience which dissuades him from violence). It is a tragic dilemma (dharma sankat) indeed. Krishna, then reveals his awe inspiring aspect as God, who is the creator and destroyer of the universe. He leaves the choice with Arjun and asks him to make a reasoned decision based on what he has learned. ‘Act as you choose’, says Krishna.
The experience of Krishna’s terrifying form, makes Arjun realise that his duty is linked to cosmic power (Krishna’s divinity). And as long as he acts according to his duty, he conforms to cosmic dharma. This makes him an instrument of cosmic will rather than a doer (ego). Arjun reasons that, he can act according to his duty and fulfill his moral commitment of fighting a just war to restore order (response) or he can wallow in emotions and think of his self-interest (reaction). He chooses response over reaction. “I will do your bidding,” says Arjun.
The concept of ‘nishkama karma’ has intrigued many a philosophers. They have been trying to interpret ‘nishkama karma’ as a spiritual ideal for centuries. However, the thing to observe here is that ‘nish’ which means ‘without’ in Sanskrit, ‘kama’ which means ‘desire’, ‘phala’ which means ‘fruit’ and ‘karma’ which means ‘action’ or ‘action performed without desire of its fruit’ (nishphala karma) does not accumulate karma. Since it is done in selfless spirit of fulfilling one’s moral commitment rather than personal glory or blame, Krishna says, it will not incur debt. This was Krishna’s promise to Arjun.
The choice to detach himself from the consequence of his actions was not easy for Arjun. But he is able to rise above his ego and be an instrument of divine will (‘Be just my instrument’, says Krishna). Having seen the awe inspiring aspect of God, where, in time grown old, events have already happened according to divine will, Arjun just needs to do his duty. By attending to his duty single-mindedly without any thought to the consequence, Arjun’s action is linked to Krishna’s divinity or cosmic power.
Arjun chose moral commitment over self-interest, divinity over humanity, liberation over bondage. When we perform actions with desire for its fruit in mind, we bind ourselves to the cycle of birth and rebirth. The purpose of life is liberation or moksha. Nishkama karma or detaching one’s actions from personal reward helps us to attain this purpose. However, in the final analysis, the choice rests with us. As long as the desire for rewards of our work matter to us, as much as the work, we are reborn for those rewards, but when we perform only those acts that are incumbent on us, we attain liberation.

The Silent Women World Changers of 2015

“Old orders changeth ,yielding place to new”, wrote Tennyson in the Victorian Age, but it has never been as evident as today. Change is happening, and not just in the conventional corridors of power. In fact, the nature of power in itself is changing, becoming less top-down, less institutional and less predictable. While everyone is familiar with the female leaders who generate headlines at Davos – inspiring women like Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, and Sheryl Sandberg – you might be less aware of the other exceptional women involved changing the very nature of this world. From an astronaut to an executive campaigning for gay rights at work, from scientists to social entrepreneurs, these women are challenging what is expected of their gender and changing the world around them for the better.
Despite all the noise, the sexism is still too potent a force to be ignored. Token presence of women is no assurance of their capability being used, but wherever they are, women have been agents of change. And the change is not due to any patronage by men. It is women who have created such a milieu that their contributions can be ignored no longer
And here are the Women- the Real Agents of Change!!! Challenge
Muna AbuSulayman, TV anchor, Co-founder of Meedan.com
Saudi Arabia’s Muna AbuSulayman is best known for founding and co-hosting Kalam Nawaem, one of the Arab world’s most popular TV shows. A one-hour show hosted exclusively by women, Kalam Nawaem is credited with pushing social boundaries on Arab television, discussing controversial topics such as homosexuality, gender equality, sexual harassment and divorce. AbuSulayman’s activities are not limited to the TV screen. In 2007, she was appointed the first Saudi UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. Currently head of directions and a partner in Glowork – a website for Saudi women to find employment – she is a committed advocate for gender equality. She has also championed projects and fundraising for refugees.
And her credo: “A lot has been accomplished to close the gap in gender inequality, a lot of research has been carried out to look at how stereotypes still operate on an almost subconscious level‎. Yet women still lag behind in income parity, opportunities for promotion and the ability to tap into government resources to balance home and work duties. I look forward to the day when all those issues are no longer topics of conversation, seminars, and studies.”
Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice-Chair of Public Policy at EY
Beth Brooke-Marciniak climbed the corporate ladder while aware of being “different”, as a woman, an introvert and as someone who kept her sexual orientation hidden. After coming out in 2011, EY’s global vice-chair for public policy says she has become a better leader. Over the past four years, she has increasingly used her position to raise awareness of LGBT issues in business. This year she spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos about diversity and gay rights, and she chairs the executive panel to unify EY’s LGBT networks globally. Last year, Brooke-Marciniak was among OUTstanding’s top 100 LGBT leaders, and Forbes has named her among its “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” seven times.
And her credo: In a recent EY survey, men identified unconscious bias as the number one barrier to women’s advancement. That’s a great starting point. If men know it’s a problem, we can all start to deal with it. We need men and women working together to eradicate workplace bias, creating flexibility in the workplace for men and women so both can share the burdens of home, providing clear opportunities for women to advance and sponsoring them to do so. The evidence is clear that promoting women produce higher GDP, improves productivity and business outcomes. So now, it’s about taking action. I, for one, won’t wait. Neither should you.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International
Winnie Byanyima was 18 when she arrived in Britain, having fled Idi Amin’s regime. She trained as an aeronautical engineer there and returned to Uganda after the fall of Amin. Democratic elections were hijacked, however, which led her to join a new struggle for liberation under the leadership of the current Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. She served 11 years in the Ugandan parliament, championing groundbreaking gender equality laws and multi-party democracy. She has served as director of gender and development at the African Union Commission and the United Nations Development Program. She co-founded the 60-member Global Gender and Climate Alliance and chaired UN task forces on gender aspects of the Millennium Development Goals and climate change. Now head of Oxfam International, she is a recognized leader on women’s rights, democratic governance, and peace-building, and has played a major role in putting inequality on the world agenda.
And her credo: The untapped potential of women across the world in every walk of life is a priority that requires our urgent attention. The fact is, women still bear the biggest burden of poverty and most people living in poverty are women. We know why and how excluding women impacts societies and economies, and much is being done, by Oxfam and others, to advance women’s well-being and expand their roles as political, economic, family and social leaders. But to make gender equality happen, a concerted focus on legal reform and ending violence against women is needed, and though this is happening, more needs to be done and quickly for the benefit of all; women and men, girls and boys.
Krista Donaldson, CEO of D-Rev
Since 2009, Krista Donaldson has been CEO of D-Rev, a not-for-profit based in Silicon Valley that brings medical devices to people living on less than $4 a day. The aim is to design first-rate medical equipment better suited to developing countries, then license it to for-profit distributors in those areas. Under her leadership, D-Rev has led the design and scaling in emerging markets of Brilliance, an affordable treatment for babies with jaundice, and the ReMotion prosthetic knee, now worn by over 5,500 amputees. She has been recognized by Fast Company as one of the 50 designers shaping the future, and the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer.
And her credo: I’d like to see a broader view when we talk about women in the workforce – I’ve seen a lot of talk focused on women in technology or women in the corporate sector. Too often this conversation is skewed by prioritization of corporate jobs over other sectors. If we want to build a better world, we need to build better equality and diversity in every sector. I work in the social sector and I’m surrounded by female peers who have long leaned in, excelled in their careers – are literally changing the world and how society thinks. Where I see the biggest opportunity for growth is in redefining leadership and success.
Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology 
Jennifer Doudna grew up in Hawaii and got her first taste of scientific research working in a lab with a family friend in the summer before college. The bug bit and Doudna went on to become a molecular and cell biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2012 she and collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier engineered a simple, inexpensive and broadly effective technology for changing or correcting DNA sequences within cells. This technology, called CRISPR-Cas9, harnesses a bacterial adaptive immune system as a powerful tool for editing DNA sequences, similar to editing the text of a document. The CRISPR-Cas9 system could one day be used to treat a range of hereditary disorders such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Huntington’s disease. Doudna was one of six scientists awarded the 2015 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, which honors transformative advances towards understanding living systems and extending human life.
And her credo: On a recent visit to a seventh-grade classroom, I was inspired by the eager faces of girls and boys who share a passion for the joy of discovery and the sleuthing that is science. I am working to foster a scientific community that welcomes all people to participate in the research endeavor.
Angélica Fuentes, CEO of Omnilife
Angélica Fuentes is one of Latin America’s most prominent businesswomen. She is CEO and managing shareholder of the global nutrition company Omnilife. Fuentes also founded and leads Angelيssima, a cosmetics company which recruits armies of entrepreneurial saleswomen, offering them the chance to gain financial independence. As a philanthropist, she launched the Angélica Fuentes Foundation last year, with a $3 million endowment to promote the empowerment of Latin American women and girls. She serves as one of two Global Advocates for the United Nations Foundation´s Girl Up campaign and as a co-chair of the Mexico Gender Parity Taskforce, a World Economic Forum initiative. She is co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Latin America meeting in May 2015, which will be hosted in Mexico.
And her credo: In today’s global economy, gender equality is a key driver of competitiveness, innovation, and productivity. Investing in women and girls in Latin America can change the future of our region.
Terry Jester, CEO of Silicor Materials
Terry Jester, a 35-year veteran of the solar industry, joined Silicor Materials in 2010 having been actively involved in the company as  an entrepreneur in residence at one of its financial backers, Hudson Clean Energy. Silicor Materials is notable for having developed a new way of manufacturing solar silicon at roughly half the production cost of traditional methods. It produces the most environmentally friendly solar silicon in the industry, requiring up to two-thirds less energy than competing methods and using no hazardous chemicals. A mechanical engineer, Jester has managed large solar operations and held engineering positions at SoloPower, SunPower, SolarWorld, Siemens, Arco and Shell. She participated in the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos, speaking on “Energy Innovations with the Technology Pioneers.”
And her credo: I have always approached my life assuming equality. I grew up with five brothers who treated me as their equal. I think of it as freedom to make use of all the brainpower and emotional energy available and necessary for both men and women to give our best to whatever we do. Women tend to think more about the communal good, which is required for progress overall in the world. We need more of that thinking, plain and simple.
Krithi Karanth, Conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society
Krithi Karanth, a torchbearer for wildlife conservation in India, first tracked tigers at the age of eight. Her father was one of India’s pioneering conservation biologists and Karanth saw first-hand the many threats to wildlife. For a long time, she says she wanted to “be anything other than a conservation biologist”, but her passion for nature eventually won out. Research led her to realize that threats to wildlife often stemmed from the conflict with people who suffered from losses of crops, livestock, and property. As a result, she set about mapping and modeling such conflict zones across India. Now associate conservation scientist with Wildlife Conservation Society, she has led the use of science and technology to balance human-wildlife interactions in India.
And her credo: Wildlife science and conservation needs more women.
Shannon May, Founder of Bridge International Academies
As an anthropologist conducting research in rural China, Shannon May saw close-up how primary education was failing already impoverished families. The experience prompted her to research how children could be taught the skills they need to thrive, harnessing data and technology to make a replicable and affordable model of education. The result was Bridge International Academies, the world’s largest private provider of nursery and primary education for families living on $2 a day or less. Bridge International, which charges $6 a month on average, launched its first school in Nairobi in 2009. It has now expanded across Africa, educating over 100,000 pupils, and plans to reach 10 million children across a dozen countries by 2025.
And her credo: If we keep the status quo in education, it won’t be until 2070 that all rural girls in Nigeria will complete primary school. We need to examine how we’ve created an education system that systematically excludes marginalized populations. Little is being done with urgency to ensure that every girl has access to a classroom not just to sit, but to learn. This International Women’s Day, let’s also prepare to celebrate the girls who will lead us in the generations to come by ensuring that every girl has the chance to fulfill her potential.
Tolu Olubunmi, Co-founder of Welcome.us
Tolu Olubunmi credits her work on immigration policy and social innovation to her own struggles with US immigration law. She was born in Nigeria and brought to the US aged 14. After graduating in chemical engineering, she found herself unable to work in her chosen profession due to complications with her immigration status. Rather than give up, she began volunteering her time advocating for the rights of young immigrants. She started her career in public affairs as a fellow with the National Immigration Law Center and quickly established herself as an innovative and respected leader on immigrants’ rights. She is a co-founder and former executive director of Welcome.us, an NGO celebrating the US as a nation fuelled by an immigrant tradition. During the height of the immigration reform debate in Congress, Olubunmi was invited by President Barack Obama to speak at the White House. She serves on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Migration and is an inaugural Leadership Institute Fellow with the Center for American Progress.
And her credo: A woman’s achievements are her own and we must resist the urge to judge them by what is expected of women or what is generally ascribed to men.
Rapelang Rabana, Founder and CEO of Rekindle Learning
Dubbed the “Marissa Mayer of the Silicon Cape”, South African entrepreneur and computer sciences graduate Rapelang Rabana co-founded Yeigo, one of the world’s first mobile VoIP applications. Named one of Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs by Forbes Africa, she became a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, all before the age of 30. In 2013, she launched the online training and education company Rekindle Learning. She actively promotes the role of women in business as well as the potential of mobile technology to seed new business opportunities that provide much-needed jobs and crack socio-economic challenges.
And her credo: To build more resilient communities and societies, we must leverage the strengths and values of all people- men and women.
Chetna Sinha, Founder of the Mann Deshi Foundation, India
Born in Mumbai, Chetna Sinha abandoned the urban lifestyle to pursue a career in farming in the drought-prone area of Maharashtra in Western India. As a result, she experienced first-hand the difficulties facing women in this region, from the lack of financial support to the fact that they are not treated as viable entrepreneurs. She went on to develop India’s first rural co-operative bank owned by women. The Mann Deshi Mahila Bank is a micro-enterprise development bank working with low-income women, which provides business loans. She established a business school for rural women to provide training in entrepreneurial skills. Since 1996, Sinha has been organizing women in rural areas of Maharashtra in the fight for land and property rights and she launched a community radio station, providing a platform for sharing information. She also set up a toll-free hotline linked to India’s Chamber of Commerce to give rural women financial advice. Mann Deshi aspires to launch 1 million rural women entrepreneurs through partnerships with social enterprises and mainline financial institutions in India. Sinha was named India Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 for her work with Mann Deshi, and a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.
And her credo: If you want a successful social enterprise, tap into the talent of women.
Esra’a Al Shafei, Founder of Mideast Youth
A Bahraini civil rights activist and digital entrepreneur, Esra’a Al Shafei sees the internet as a tool to promote freedom of speech and foster change. In 2006, aged just 20, she founded online forum Mideast Youth, which seeks to give young people a voice in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The organization builds web and mobile applications that amplify the voices of underrepresented communities in the MENA region and beyond. Its projects include CrowdVoice.org, which crowdsources and curates eyewitness photos, videos, data and reports on protests and social justice movements in places that traditional media often cannot access. Mideast Youth also runs Ahwaa.org, forum for the LGBT community in the Arab world, where young people can discuss issues on identity in countries where homosexuality can be punishable by imprisonment or death, and Mideast Tunes, which is currently the largest platform for underground musicians in the MENA region who use music as a tool for social change. Al Shafei is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Media, a senior TED fellow and a recipient of the Berkman Award from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society for “outstanding contributions to the internet and its impact on society”.
And her credo: We need to remove the barriers to entry for women in tech. It’s time for the industry to value female talent and perspective.
Kathryn Sullivan, US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
Part of NASA’s first class of female astronauts, selected in 1978, Kathryn Sullivan went on to fly three shuttle missions and became the first American woman to walk in space. Having seen Earth from that privileged vantage point, Sullivan now works to help people understand how dynamic our home planet is and use that information to help communities become more resilient to natural hazards and climate change. She left NASA in 1993 to take a series of high-level jobs, first as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and now as head of the same organization. An Earth scientist and PhD geologist/oceanographer, she works on harnessing big data from space to draw attention to the fragility of the climate.
And her credo: We’ve made tremendous strides toward gender equality, but there’s much more to be done. Now is the time to #makeithappen.
Leila Takayama, Senior Researcher at Google[x]
Specializing in human-robot interaction, Leila Takayama wants to make robots that are better able to integrate into the human world and perform useful roles at work and in homes. As a research scientist at robotics company Willow Garage, she teamed up with an animator and sound designer at Pixar Studios to come up with gestures and emotive beeps and whirrs to make robots more approachable. Now a senior researcher at Google[x] – a Google lab that aims for “moonshots” in science and technology – she is one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and a Global Agenda Council Member for AI & Robotics. Takayama has also been named one of Technology Review’s top 35 innovators under 35, and one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company.
And her credo: Inventing a future we actually want to live in requires engaging the perspectives from women and men alike. Those diverse discussions lead to more informed and creative solutions.
These women are the that breed that makes all progress possible.

Artificial intelligence: opportunity or challenge for the US economy?

The labour impact of robots in the United States is crucial to the argument of whether it should be proliferated.
Jason Furman, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers gave a speech on the “opportunities and challenges” presented by artificial intelligence. The potential challenges of artificial intelligence are, to put it in the terms of some recent economic policy conversations, problems posed by the rise of robots. The question at the heart of the debate is how concerned should we humans be about the impact of future technological change on our economy and society? Will we all be thrown out of work? Will new technologies make production so easy that economic growth absolutely booms? Or, perhaps more realistically, will something in between happen?
The answer lies, to an extent, on how technological growth affects demand for labor in the United States and around the world.
First, a nod to Furman’s point that a few more robots might be a good thing for the economy writ large at this point. Insofar as more artificial intelligence would boost productivity, the introduction of more “robots” would give the U.S. economy and those of other high-income countries a much-needed boost in productivity growth. How much further “AI” innovation could deliver in an economy where the diffusion of innovation may be a major factor holding back productivity is up for debate.
Yet most of the concerns about the rise of the robots are centered on distributional concerns. The robots might boost productivity growth and therefore the growth of economic output, but will they displace large swaths of workers? Maybe permanently? This first fear—that robots will massively displace labor across manufacturing and services industries—is a concern because in the future additional capital investment in all manner of robots may well supplant labor rather than supplement it. If robots can essentially replace a large chunk of labor, then businesses will stop hiring workers and instead replace them with robots. Imagine an economy-wide version of robots on factory floors.
Past experience with technological change, Furman argues, shows that new technologies don’t reduce demand for all labor, but rather shift the composition of demand for workers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor agrees, arguing that commentators overstate the ability of robots to substitute for labor and forget how capital acts as a complement to labor. The capital and labor complement each other, so that more capital accumulation or declining costs of investment actually raise the share of income accruing to labor.
Yet advances in artificial intelligence definitely change the kind of skills that labor needs to supplement the next generation of robots. This kind of deep technological change could reduce demand for, say, middle-skilled workers while boosting demand for less-skilled workers and more highly-skilled workers. The overall level of labor demand might not change, but the overall composition of the earnings distribution could well result in more income inequality. Of course, technology isn’t the only thing that affects the distribution of income—labor market institutions such as union membership also play a significant role.
The extent to which future technological change affects the distribution of income will probably rest on how it impacts the overall demand for labor as well as the kind of skills that become more valuable in the future. There is some definitive evidence that overall demand for skilled labor is on the decline, but how long this recent trend continues and how much technology is responsible for it are open questions.

Resistance to new technologies?

Change is the law of nature, but the nature of human beings is to resist any change. Humans are averse to any change and accept change over time. Flux or change just disturbs the equanimity of mankind. It is a rare breed of revolutionaries that welcomes change as a matter of life and takes it up an act of improvement. Microsoft founder Bill Gates doesn’t understand why people are not concerned about artificial intelligence (AI), agreeing with Elon Musk that it could be one of our biggest existential threats, but Microsoft’s research head Eric Horvitz disagrees with this view. Concern over the social and economic impacts of AI is one of the many controversies surrounding emerging technologies.
There are many reasons for this opposition to new technologies. Essentially, it is our sense of what it means to be human lies at the root of some of the skepticism about technological innovation.
Given Schumpeter’s comments on innovators and entrepreneurs – he once said that their work opened them up to “social ostracism and to physical prevention or to direct attack” – there could not have been a more suitable venue. Schumpeter wrote this comment in 1912. Which is to say that we have a long history of resisting technological advances. And it’s to history we must turn to understand why this is so.
Looking in the past for answers
The society tends to reject new technologies when they substitute for, rather than augment, our humanity. Our desire to humanize technology is captured in the humor of this Bradley’s Bromide: “If computers get too powerful, we can organize them into a committee – that will do them in.”
We eagerly embrace them when they support our desire for inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature. We do so even when they are unwieldy, expensive, time-consuming to use, and constantly break down.
For example, the early days of the introduction of tractors in the United States were hardly the paragon of farm efficiency. Tractors offered little advantage over horses. Some opponents argued that their value could be marginally improved if they could reproduce themselves like horses.
What ‘brick phones’ teach us about new technologies
As technologies migrate across countries and continents, their societal implications also change. For example, when Motorola introduced cellphones in the United States in 1983, they were dismissed as toys for the rich. They cost $4,000 (today’s equivalent of $10,000), weighed two pounds, stood at a foot tall, took 10 hours to charge, and delivered only 30 minutes of talk time.
These metrics would have qualified them as a tool for updating one’s Facebook status. They were the butt of jokes, dubbed “brick phones” because of their shape and weight.
The first model was called DyanTAC, standing for Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage. Despite this aggressive and prospective name, the early models did little to augment our humanity, especially for young people. Adoption rates in the United States were glacial, putting it well behind Europe, Asia, and Africa.
When cellphones hit Africa, they were reinvented by engineers and diffused using novel business models created by entrepreneurs in Kenya, who pioneered mobile money transfer – called “transfer” instead of “banking” because banks wouldn’t let the telecoms hold money.
Today cell phones are no longer just a communication tool. They are serving as banks, schools, clinics, and vehicles for spreading transparency and democracy. They augment our humanity in ways that could not have been anticipated in the early 1980s. They are also serving as a role model for improvements in other sectors such as off-grid electricity supply.
And now we have more than just cell phones. We live in exciting times where technological diversity and creativity offer limitless opportunities to expand the human potential for all, not just for certain exclusive sections of society.
When technologies ‘give back’
Resistance to new technologies is heightened when the public perceives that the benefits of new technologies will only accrue to a small section of society, while the risks are likely to be widespread. This is why technologies promoted by large corporations often face stiff opposition from the public.
Similarly, new technologies face great opposition when the public perceives that the risks are likely to be felt in the short run and the benefits will only accrue in the long run. So telling a skeptical public that new technologies will benefit future generations does not protect us from the wrath of current ones.
What is the way forward? The answer might lie in the much-abused phrase “social entrepreneurship”. For many, this term is a euphemism for a charity or nongovernmental organization. But what is really needed is to bring the “social” back into “entrepreneurship”.
This means exploring new ways by which enterprises can be seen as contributing to the common good. The fact that enterprises use new technologies to enhance their competitiveness makes it difficult for the general public to separate technology from its uses – for better or for worse.
The fate of new technologies will continue to be determined by the balance of power in society. For nearly 400 years, Ottoman rulers opposed the printing of the Koran. Doing so would have undermined the role of religious leaders as sources of cultural codes. But when the printed word seemed to reinforce the power of the rulers they slowly went against previous fatwas banning the printing of the Koran.
The acceptable aspect of new technologies is dependent on whether they reinforce rather than undermine incumbent practices. The dilemma facing modern society is whether reinforcing existing practices undermines society.
New technologies are essential to fostering economic growth, meeting human needs, and protecting the environment. New clean energy technologies such as solar photovoltaic cells and wind turbines, for example, are critical to reducing carbon dioxide emission and addressing the challenges of climate change.
But their adoption is often held back by the incumbent industries and vested interests. The dilemma is that in many cases clinging to the old may,  in fact, be in conflict with our humanity, especially in regard to our search for affinity with nature. As the American composer John Cage aptly put it: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

 

Female mayors who have revolutionized their cities

Canadians have been enamoured of former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, but these five groundbreaking mayors of different cities have performed real service to their people. We talk fo powerful me in history, and there have been powerful women- Empress Catherine, Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth I, Maria Theresa of Austria and so on. The total count shall not exceed 25. However we see a rising trend to women empowerment. While we are aware that there are women at the national level who are strong, there are also women at local level who are great in real sense of term. For example, from Julius Caesar to the Pope, Rome’s history is full of powerful men. Now the Italian capital has elected its first ever female mayor: Virginia Raggi, of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, won 67% of the city’s vote, pledging to crack down on corruption and take on the Catholic Church.
Raggi’s victory is not only ground-breaking for Rome, it also represents a significant leap forward for women in the traditionally male-dominated field of local politics. Are you aware that despite all this hoopla of women empowerment, less than 5% of the world’s mayors are female, and women make up an average of just 20% of local councillors.
While female mayors may be few and far between, here are some shining examples of women who are leading their cities in innovative ways and making them better places to live.
Naomi Koshi, Otsu, Japan
In 2012, Naomi Koshi became the youngest woman to be elected mayor of a Japanese city.
Just 1% of Japan’s mayors are women, and only 11% of national parliamentarians and 7% of corporate executives are women. These figures may come as no surprise when you consider that 60% of Japanese women leave the workforce after having their first child.
Since becoming Otsu’s mayor in 2012, Naomi Koshi has introduced a series of practical measures aimed at helping women stay in the workforce, including improving access to childcare and changing men’s attitudes to taking parental leave.
Koshi, a member of the 2015 intake of WEF Young Global Leaders, says that she is usually the only woman in the room during most meetings, but she hopes that by changing policy at a local level she will help change the makeup of Japan’s government and boardrooms.
“I would like to do my part in making my city the best place for men and women to raise a family while working. A change in Otsu will act to further strengthen the Japanese voices that are pushing for gender equality nationwide.”
Tri Rismaharini, Surabaya, Indonesia
Tri Rismaharini has been successfully transforming Indonesia’s second-largest city into a more educated and sustainable place, earning her a place on Forbes Indonesia’s list of the 10 most inspiring women in 2014.
Known affectionately as ” Mother Rishma” because of the way she looks after the city of Surabaya, Rismaharini introduced free education for poor communities and increased the city’s education budget by 36%.
As the former head of the Sanitation and Parks Office and Planning Agency, she also made creating and improving the city’s green spaces a priority. Under her stewardship, Surabaya won the ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable City Award 2012 and the Adipura Kencana, one of Indonesia’s highest environmental awards.
Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Warsaw, Poland
Back in 2006, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz became Warsaw’s first female mayor. And it seems the citizens of Warsaw are keen to keep her in charge of their city: in 2014 they elected her to an unprecedented third term.
Gronkiewicz-Waltz went into politics following a career in banking and is a longstanding supporter of diversity, backing gay rights and introducing programmes to help foreign residents to integrate. She is also known for being quite outspoken on environmental issues and has attacked the Polish government’s opposition to European clean-energy goals.
Gronkiewicz-Waltz is also determined to improve the city’s economy. She launched the Innovation in Warsaw 2020 program, which encourages entrepreneurship and R&D and has helped bring Google to Warsaw.
Celia Wade-Brown, Wellington, New Zealand
Celia Wade-Brown famously became famous when she cycled to the airport to meet Hillary Clinton on her visit to New Zealand in 2010. Dubbed New Zealand’s poster girl for cycling, the Wellington mayor has tripled the city’s cycling budget and is working to help make the city safer for cyclists and pedestrians as well as more environmentally friendly.
She is also working to boost economic development in Wellington. Future projects include creating a high-tech precinct and a runway extension for the international airport that would connect the city with commercial hubs in Asia and North America.
Giusi Nicolini, Lampedusa, Italy
Elected mayor of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa in 2012, Giusi Nicolini is a passionate human rights advocate. She has persistently called on the European leaders to do more to help migrants heading to the continent, many of whom arrive in Lampedusa on boats from North Africa.
Her commitment to human rights has earned her numerous awards, including the recent 36th Peace Prize of Anue (United Nations Association of Spain).

Investment in India: A few seductive tricks

Downgrading India as an investment destination seems to be the flavour of the season for international rating agencies. Ambiguous and inconsistent regulatory and policy architecture must shoulder a significant portion of the blame.
Predictability in economic policies is necessary to achieve credibility by any economy. While the government has acknowledged that ‘ease of doing business’ is a work-in-progress, we cannot remain ignorant of developments in the neighbourhood.
China has been an investors’ darling for long. In the last 10 years, foreign investment in China has crossed $2 trillion, compared to India’s performance of around $230 billion. China was successful in showcasing a stable, albeit managed, economy to investors. While its political governance model is not worth emulating, its experience highlights the benefits of certain and predictable regulatory regime.
When Chinese economy managers were busy offering an attractive investment regime, India was grappling with bustling democratic processes and fractured political mandates, holding back key economic reforms. The blame that ensued has resulted in several missed opportunities.
This is not to suggest that China did everything correct. In its obsession with managing the economy, it confused predictability with regulatory stiffness and unwillingness to change. It didn’t realise that no economy can isolate itself from the world for too long.
Regulation is not a one-way street and responsiveness to the market and the global scenario is crucial to prevent regulatory obsolescence. Which is why governance structures and processes to identify, analyse, predict and respond to market trends, in consultation with stakeholders, are necessary to inspire investor confidence.
Absence of such mechanisms has come to haunt China, which is now attempting to respond to market dynamics. However, lack of transparency, vested interests and reluctance to change is hurting it badly.
While structures and processes are necessary, they don’t guarantee investments. Short-sighted regulatory approaches to attract investments could do greater damage in the longer run than perceived benefits. This is what the Brazilian experience teaches us.
With a population of less than a fifth of India’s, Brazil has been able to attract foreign investments of around $500 billion in the last decade, more than twice of what India managed. Despite having a healthy and functional democracy, it shrank by close to 3.5% recently, and is now staring at significant erosion in GDP.
In the pursuit of fast-paced growth, Brazil’s policymakers and regulators raised monetary supply, fuelling credit spree. Certain sectors and industries were offered tax breaks while price controls were imposed on others.
Wipe away those entry-level difficulties
Transparency was dented when market leaders became embroiled in corruption scandals. While Brazil’s macroeconomic fundamentals were in place, aggressive policies focusing on fast-paced growth and sector-specific policy and regulatory errors resulted in systemic harm.
In India, many have called for postponing the fiscal deficit target, reducing policy rates, increasing public investments and relaxing conditions for private investment in certain sectors. Indian policymakers would do well to conduct an ex ante impact assessment of available policy alternatives.
Commentators repeatedly blame policy and regulatory uncertainty as an impediment to investment. This escalated during the 2008-09 financial crisis, and world investment flows are yet to come close to pre-crisis levels.
Macroeconomic like improving transparency and competition, and facilitating regulatory independence, have been suggested as a remedy. While being imperative, such reforms need to be pursued vigorously over a longer period, as they often become casualty to other political priorities.
So, it is clear that sector-specific strategy to manage uncertainty could deliver timely, positive results and convey the desired message to the investor community. Selection of sector, design of methodology, assessment of costs and benefits, and involvement of stakeholders since inception are critical to design-requisite reforms.
The e-commerce sector, for instance, has immense growth potential. But it is facing significant policy and regulatory uncertainty. Reforming the regulatory architecture will send positive signals to investors that government means business. This will have a domino effect on other sectors as well.

The Subject that I hate, affects our lives- how?

The one subject that I have never liked is Mathematics. This was the and has been the only subject in which I got flunked. But then I read the  book and found that Mathematics is not only numbers. And to my horror and much against my natural antipathy to this subject how Math affects our life in a very secretive, rather, insidious manner.
Jordan Ellenberg, the author of How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking is on the surface it’s about math, but it’s really about how much math plays into our daily lives without our even knowing it.
The book starts with a story about Abraham Wald, an Eastern European mathematician who worked for the American government during World War II. One day the military came to him and said, “We have a problem. We send our planes overseas, and when they come back, their engines are fine, but their tails are riddled with bullet holes. If we put more armor on the tails, though, the planes get too heavy to fly. Can you help us figure out how to protect the planes’ tails better?”
And he said, “No.”
They were surprised, but then he explained that they were asking the wrong question. “You need to put more armor where there aren’t bullet holes. Clearly, when the plane gets hit in the tail, it makes it back to you. Your problem is the planes that get hit in the engine, because those are the ones that aren’t coming back.”
Ultimately, that’s really what the book is: a series of stories about how a lot of the apparently non-mathematical systems that underpin our daily lives are actually deeply mathematical, and people couldn’t develop them until they started asking the right questions. Each chapter starts somewhere that seems fairly straightforward—electoral politics, say, or the Massachusetts lottery—and then uses that as a jumping-off point to talk about the math involved.
In some places the math gets quite complicated. Ellenberg deals with cutting-edge thinking about subjects like prime numbers, extra dimensions, and relative infinities. A non-mathematician might get a little lost along the way. But even if you don’t feel like following him all the way to the bottom of things like Fano planes, 24-dimensional spheres, and Condorcet’s paradox, after he goes really deep he always comes back to make sure you’re still with him.
The way he deals with the lottery is a great example. For several years, the Massachusetts lottery ran in a way that allowed three teams—one led by an MIT student, one by a medical researcher, and one by a guy from Michigan—to game the system and win millions of dollars. You might ask, How could the state let them cheat like that for so long? Part of the answer is, the state didn’t care. Massachusetts got 80 cents for every $2 lottery ticket sold, no matter who won. And the second part of the answer is, they weren’t cheating. They were taking advantage of math to give themselves slightly better odds at winning and other people slightly worse odds. They basically turned themselves into the house at a casino.
But Ellenberg extends his analysis even further, because while two of the teams just had the Quic Pic machine choose their numbers randomly, the team of students filled out its tickets by hand. Tens of thousands of tickets, every time they played! Ellenberg has mathematical explanations for the difference—filling out the tickets by hand exposed the students to less risk of losing money in any given week—and then points out that, if you’re on a student’s budget, the thought of losing any money at all is pretty scary.
Toward the end of each chapter, Ellenberg broadens from these specific examples to a series of questions about how else some of the ideas in the chapter might be used, what kinds of mathematical questions are left to answer, and what kinds of real-life problems they might eventually solve.
Given how black-and-white so much of our political dialogue has become, I think it’s great to have somebody advocating for looking at the numbers, explaining the relative costs of things like alternative tax policies or what happens when you implement different voting strategies. Even if you don’t follow the deepest math behind these things, you can still appreciate the argument and the rigor of the thinking, and the world can always use more rigorous thinking.
The writing is funny, smooth, and accessible—not what you might expect from a book about math. What Ellenberg has written is ultimately a love letter to math. If the stories he tells add up to a larger lesson, it’s that “to do mathematics is to be, at once, touched by fire and bound by reason”—and that there are ways in which we’re all doing math, all the time.

Verdict on austerity

Politics, as poet Paul Valery said, “is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs that properly concern them”. Anyone wondering who the European Union serves should recall how the troika (the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF) pillaged Greece, and how it is crippling Portugal, Spain and Ireland too. The EU has evolved not into an enlightened organisation, safeguarding all citizens’ living standards, but as a brutal collection agency for reckless mega-banks. It is as kindly and reasonable as a swarm of sharks towards any vulnerable, bleeding member-state. Yet the media brush this aside to blame racism and ‘Little Englandism’ alone for the Brexit referendum result.
Forget frothy dreams of European solidarity; a sales pitch for the gullible. The European project’s ideal, always thin and mostly decorative, receded long ago. In its stead, and unmistakeably in charge, are financial and corporate magnates whose philosophy affords no room for average citizens. The widely decried ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU, despite decades of bitter complaints, was never to be remedied and, if anything, worsened. Surprise over the referendum result is what ought to be surprising.
Is Brexit the apocalypse that EU enthusiasts predict? Smug commentators chortle that many would recast their vote if they knew what an exit meant. Perhaps. On the other hand, these mostly working-class voters knew well that they were voting against an organisation whose elitist priorities relentlessly inflict harm on their lives and livelihoods. Pro-EU forces rankle at the reality of a citizenry exercising their right to reject the plans technocrats devised for them. Bear in mind that the EU has a habit of sending voters to poll again and again until they deliver the answer it wants. So don’t imagine there aren’t backroom schemes under way.
Ultimately, EU’s economic policies caused Brexit. The case for Brexit was muddied by prominent right-wingers scapegoating immigrants — a common tactic, which the media latched on to — fanning deeper reasons for Euro-scepticism. Yet ‘freedom of movement’ is indeed tied to employer interests. If every immigrant were handed a compulsory trade union membership card upon arrival, businesses would lobby hysterically for strict immigration controls and likely get them.
In a sagging economy, immigration is a handy means for increasing demand for goods without employers having to boost worker pay. By contrast, a high-growth economy with rising wages has, previously, provided a tolerant enough environment for migrants. Since the 2008 crash, however, austerity-addled EU leaders have steered a costly low-growth course with no end in sight.
The Tories, who imposed 20-25 per cent cuts in public spending, need no prodding to enact cruel policies. But every EU state, except Sweden, regardless of political leanings, is compelled by EU directives to cut spending to meet the 3pc deficit spending limit and the 60pc national debt to GDP limit. The rule bans Keynesian remedies — except when it comes to injecting hundreds of billions into ailing big banks. The public has to pay for deficits created by this magnanimous exception to the anti-Keynesian creed. The result of eight years of austerity is a rising eurozone debt level, stagnant growth, double-digit unemployment and a combined GDP below levels in 2008.
Pitifully, some sufferers of these policies could only grasp this through the distorting lenses of race and nationality. Few, if any, Western newspapers cared to address the refugee crisis as human ‘blowback’, from the unnecessary wars that Nato and the US waged throughout the developing world so as to stoke the military-industrial complex and generate enemies to justify its spending.
Austerity is a pe­r­fect pretext for redistributing we­a­lth from the bottom to the top, so no one at the top is complaining. While the xenophobia has un­doub­te­dly been ugly, there is another ugliness at play, exemplified by the indignation of those who decry ‘leave’ proponents as nothing but ignorant racists. This chorus of erudite squeals arises principally from the professional classes, the top fifth or so; Oxbridge-educated, who can afford a London property or two, and blithely dispatch offspring overseas to snap up jobs they do not anticipate getting at home.
They are oblivious to, or unconcerned about, the mounting evidence that the EU is failing the working-class majority. These folks don’t look quite so virtuous when one considers the privileged statuses they enjoy and hang on to — at anybody else’s cost — but, oh yes, they are sophisticated.
Yanis Varoufakis, the charismatic former Greek finance minister, may be right; that although the EU is a ‘monster’, it is one that can and must be tamed. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the ghost of a chance of that happening without a shock like Brexit. For nothing less would do to force remaining members to examine and reorder the EU in order to answer its people’s needs instead of those who want to fleece them

Indians : World’s Noisiest Democrats, Generally so Humourless

In the 1960s, the great Bengali writer and raconteur Syed Mujtaba Ali published an essay called ‘Roshikatha’ (roughly, ‘Witticisms’). There he recalled some jokes he’d collected during his global travels.
Comrade Boris tells Comrade Ivan, “Look, Pravda (the Party mouthpiece) is organising a contest for the best political joke submitted by readers.” “That’s wonderful,” says Ivan, “What’s the first prize?” “It’s a free holiday with winter sports and activities in Siberia. For 20 years.”
In Kolkata, April 2012, a chemistry professor of Jadavpur University called Ambikesh Mahapatra suddenly found himself under arrest. His crime? He’d forwarded a cartoon of Mamata Banerjee, elected chief minister of Bengal a year earlier, online.
Reading Mujtaba Ali and ‘Hammer & Tickle’ (2009), by Ben Lewis, a social history of communism told through jokes, raised an interesting question. Why are Indians, the world’s noisiest democrats, generally so humourless? Despite the best efforts of media and cartoonists, why are we surrounded by pompous netas, thuggish chamchas and dour babus? And why do people who live under the worst tyrannies crack the best jokes?
Is it because our reality is too grim to have a chuckle? In June, the government reported that our stocks of rice, wheat and paddy were around 63 million tonnes, nearly three times what we need as emergency rations.
We’ll soon import a vast amount of genetically-modified maize (which Indian farmers aren’t allowed to cultivate), just before our own crop will be harvested. Around 40% of fruits and vegetables rot on the way to market. Yet more than 1,400 kids die of malnutrition daily, as you read this. Clearly, there’s a vast mismatch between what’s available and shortages on the ground.
Communism was no stranger to shortages. One day, Comrades were overjoyed to learn that they would soon have their own motorcycles at the end of the five year plan. Then, they heard that everyone would get their own cars at the end of the next plan, and personal helicopters at the end of the plan after that.
Well, after the third plan, two Comrades met above the skies of Moscow in their respective choppers. One rolls down the window and asks the other, “Where are you headed, Comrade?” The other says, “To Odessa, where the store has a pound of cheese. I’m trying to beat the queue there.”
Here’s another one: “What would happen if Arabia suddenly became communist? Nothing at first, but soon, there’d be a shortage of sand.”
Our overall growth numbers are supposed to be splendid, but details indicate otherwise. These include a sharp fall in railway freight for bulk stuff like coal and fertilisers and a slump in import of capital goods for fresh investments. Companies aren’t growing sales as fast as they could have, and profitability is weak. Banks are saddled with bad loans.
This one is from China. The Peking Radio broadcaster says China increased its electricity production 100% between 1959 and 1960. “The next year, it jumped by 150% and this year, power production is up 200%. Comrade, get me another candle. This one’s all burnt out.”
Nobody probably illustrates India’s sexism better than Samajwadi boss Mulayam Singh Yadav. On learning that rapists had been sentenced to death in Mumbai, he said in April, 2014: “Boys will be boys. Why should they be sentenced to death for a mistake?”
Communists were no Mulayam, but knew the priorities for women. So, one day Comrade arrives early from work to find his wife in the arms of a lover. “Is this any time to be in bed?” he shouts. “Don’t you know they’ve got melons in the store for the last hour?”
Ethnic and religious bigotry are rife. Maharashtra’s Raj Thackeray says “bhaiyyas”, poor workers from Bihar and UP, should be kicked out of the state. In Delhi, folks from the northeast are derided as Chinkies. Campaigning in Bengal and Assam, BJP leaders told Muslims to pack up for Bangladesh.
Here’s one from Germany. It’s late in the war and Chaim and Weinstein are told they’ll be shot next morning at the concentration camp. The next morning, the sentence is changed to death by hanging. “We’re lucky,” says Chaim, “They’re running out of bullets.”
Russians aren’t too fond of Chechens, who’re Muslim, and Ukrainians. So here’s a contemporary tale about both. A Chechen catches the legendary golden fish, which promises him three wishes. The Chechen scratches his head and asks the fish for some suggestions.
“Well a Ukrainian caught me once and asked for tonnes of gold and dollars.” “Great,” says the Chechen, “Give me the address of the Ukrainian.”
In October, 2014, global media reported a speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Taking a cue from a RSS ideologue called Dinanath Batra, Modi claimed that Ganesha and Karna proved Indians had mastered plastic surgery and reproductive genetics millennia before the rest of the world.
In 1969, Leonid Brezhnev was told Americans had landed men on the Moon. “Tell them our cosmonauts are ready to land on the Sun.” His horrified aide said this was impossible: the cosmonauts would be vapourised. “D’you take me for a fool?” said Brezhnev. “We’ll land them at night.”
As things turn grimmer here, it’s probably best to have a laugh at the expense of the neta-babu cohort.

Trump Beyond Media’s Understanding

Donald Trump has finally won the Republican Party’s formal nomination to run for US president in the elections due later this year.
However, less than a year ago top US media houses, known for their immense research and credibility, had dismissed his campaign as a joke, an anomaly and a non-starter. When Trump began to gather the numbers, the same media dismissed him as racist, sexist and a buffoon. Trump, meanwhile, stuck to a vicious, anti-establishment, politically incorrect and an ‘OMG, I can’t believe he said that’ campaign outlining proposals like building a thick wall to keep out Mexicans and banning Muslims. Notably, he conducted this campaign in an uber-politically correct land where you don’t call fat people fat (you call them big, whatever that means).
The US media, comprising smart people from Ivy League colleges with decades of experience, saw all this as a passing fad. Trump’s fall, they felt, was imminent. C’mon, how can you be president with that fake hairstyle?
And yet, Trump won primary after primary, and is now one of the two candidates running for president. I have no view on whether a Trump win will be good for America or the world at large, as it is too complex a discussion. Neither can one say if he will win, though being in the final two does mean he has a real chance. The purpose here is to understand how the most sophisticated media houses in the world got it so wrong. The original hypothesis that only uneducated, clueless and stupid weirdos supported Trump turned out to be completely flawed.
As per current poll data, near half of America supports Trump. It is simply impossible to have so many stupid people in any, let alone the most powerful nation in the world.
There are many reasons why the media missed his rise. One, it is filled with liberals, often from elite schools with a certain kind of worldview. These people then hire juniors in their channel or newspaper who match their own worldview. Over time, the media house becomes an incestuous pool of think-alike liberals who lose track of the general population. It is these people who often say, “But everybody hates Trump.” No, not everybody does. Only people around your cubicles, people you meet for drinks after work, and your friends on Facebook do. Believe it or not, that’s a tiny bubble and not ‘everyone’.
Interestingly, the same thing happened in Modi’s election to the PM’s post. In 2011 and 2012, almost all English media houses in the country regarded Modi as persona non grata, let alone a serious PM candidate. His popularity, rise and appeal were missed for several years, until the media finally corrected itself and understood the general sentiment.
There is an important lesson for us Indians and the media here. India’s class markers are quite distinct and deep. The various economic classes mix far less here than they do in the US. If the US media could get it wrong, the Indian media is more likely to do so. Already, there is deep mistrust about Indian media on social media platforms. Derogatory terms like ‘presstitute’ have arisen from this same mistrust which, though unfair, show how the general population doesn’t feel the media represents them.
Media houses and political parties always need to keep an ear to the ground to understand the social sentiment. The rapid rise of Hardik Patel’s movement, for example, took everyone by surprise. Media houses should not just yearn to hire graduates from elite Delhi University colleges (which frankly now only take in nerds with their insane cutoffs), but also people who understand India. Political parties should know what people want rather than trust media reports. We as people should look beyond our Whatsapp groups and Facebook bubble to know what the world is really all about.

What is Kashmir waiting for?

“We are waiting for the day Kashmir becomes part of Pakistan,” said Pakistan President Nawaz Sharif. In a stern reply, our foreign minister Sushma Swaraj hit out, “Your (Pak) dream of Kashmir will not be realised even at the end of eternity.” This war of words between both sides over Kashmir has been going on for ages.
Not only Pakistan, people in the Valley or those linked to it are also waiting for something: Young Kashmiris are waiting for azadi (though they may not know what azadi means), separatists waiting for a key role in peace talks, Pandits waiting for their return to the peaceful Valley and the old generation waiting to see their ‘heaven’ in its original glory. But what is Kashmir waiting for?
Kashmir, which was once known as the ‘heaven on earth’ for its pristine beauty, has now turned into a militarized zone as militancy over the years has snatched peace from this ‘beautiful wadi’. Militancy since early 1990s forced the Centre to gradually increase the Army strength in the Valley to contain infiltration and militancy. Though the Army on streets has given a sense of security, it has snatched privacy from the lives of civilians. Whenever peace prevails in any area, locals demand the removal of security barricades from those areas but as soon as the Army is out of those areas, terror creeps in.
This uneasy calm maintained by security forces for quite some time was shattered again on July 8 when Hizbul Mujahideen’s social media face Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed in an encounter with forces in Anantnag. The killing of Wani, liked by many on social media, sparked anger in the Valley. Fringe and separatist elements fuelled this fire by inciting youths to attack security personnel. The clashes thereafter between forces and civilians in Srinagar and adjoining cities led to bloodbath on streets. While almost 50 civilians have lost lives in recent days, mob attacks on forces have inflicted severe injuries on over 2,000 personnel.
It is time,India stops being defensive about Kashmir. Well-known facts are sometimes forgotten, conveniently overlooked or twisted to suit a particular narrative. So, it is necessary to restate some facts and bring the discourse back on rails.
Kashmir, all of it, belongs to India and it will stay like that. We have a document affirming the status of Kashmir and Pakistan has never observed the UNSC resolutions of April 1948 to solve the issue. In any case, Jammu and Kashmir is no longer listed by the UN as a dispute.
Pakistan has been intruding in various ways virtually from the day it became independent. Over time, this has become more vicious and blatant. We have remained inadequately reactive, offering peace initiatives that were always seen as signs of weakness by the Deep State.
Consequently, we have in Kashmir an externally sponsored terrorism under a nuclear umbrella seeking annexation of Kashmir. It is neither a freedom struggle nor a human rights story. We should not feel guilty about treating terrorism for what it is. We seem to forget that a terrorist attack by stealth does not spare civilians, women and children included.
The present situation has not been brought about by our security forces or by our intelligence agencies. It is the result of repeated political opportunism and ineptitude, which has followed up on a series of mistakes and promises not kept.
Terrorism gets prolonged when it has multilayered external state support accompanied by a comfortable but mistaken narrative in the targeted country that creates sympathy. This narrative is provided by a mixture of political opportunism, woollyheaded opinion makers and an irresponsible media.
The armed forces are doing a great job in handling a situation that is not of their making. They are trained to fight the external enemy, not to shoot at malcontents within the country.
Powers be with the forces
If we need to use them in this manner, then they must be covered by Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa), with adequate means to take on a new kind of enemy. In the process, there will be mistakes and misjudgements, even excesses. That is unfortunate. But we have to deal with this.
We trivialise the supreme sacrifices of these men and women, along with their families, when we lionise terrorists. We can recall the name of the dead terrorist, but can we recall one name among the 18 CRPF men who died in Kashmir and Bihar in the last one month? This is what happens when we call them ‘youth leaders’, ‘national leaders’ and run to their families for human interest stories. We provide the oxygen to terrorists and their bloody trade.
Burhan Wani was no misguided young man. He was a terrorist with an agenda. He belonged to a terrorist organisation created by the Pakistanis, whose leader Syed Salahuddin lives in Pakistan. Salahuddin is unable to explain how his son was given admission to study in J&K and none of his other sons has followed their father’s footsteps.
This organisation, Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), was responsible for the murder of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq. But his son, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, never found the courage or integrity of leadership to name the assassins. And this ‘moderate leader’ had warned Ahmediyas last year that they should stay out of Kashmir.
The HM has deep links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Wani’s dream was to unfurl the flag of Islam at Delhi’s Red Fort through a holy war. How many Indians are prepared to make any compromise on this and how many consider this to be a human rights issue?
Unable to succeed through terrorism, Pakistan has now begun to seek radicalisation of Kashmir. One sees a mushrooming of Salafi madrasas undoubtedly funded by Saudi money. There is enough traction between the radicals of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to help this. This is going to be our next security challenge.
We must stop deluding ourselves that Pakistan will change its tactics if we make the right gestures (although no one defines what these gestures might be). It has pushed itself into this blind alley where any pact with India on Kashmir will be seen as a defeat. So, jihad is the only kind of war that Pakistan will fight with India no matter what the extent of blowback.
The Valley became an issue just short of the recent elections in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where it seems neither India nor J&K were electoral issues. Pakistan might have a new army chief in September and keeping Kashmir on the front burner will have an impact on the fortunes of the present incumbent when his term ends.
No yielding on terror firma
Finally, any suggestion for talks with Pakistan while terror continues legitimises Pakistani terrorist activity in India. This is often seen as favouring the illegitimate Pakistani position, especially when the situation flares up. After nearly 70 years, we should treat Kashmir without special laws and its never-ending dispensations.
It is time we developed our own response that makes Pakistan’s rulers pay a price they cannot afford. Since we have inalienable rights to Kashmir, we should stop being defensive about this and making magnanimity a foreign policy virtue.
Pakistan is taking advantage of this tension to push the United Nations to persuade India to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. While terrorists like Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed are organising open rallies in Pakistan to brainwash youth to declare a jihad against India, separatist elements are cashing in on the hatred against forces in Kashmir to brainwash the young minds in the Valley. These separatists, who are responsible for creating unrest in the Valley in the name of azadi, are double-faced. They incite youths in Kashmir to fight for azadi but have sent their family members abroad for a better future. While Hurriyat hardliner SAR Geelani’s son Nayeem is a medical practitioner in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi, Hurriyat moderate faction chief Umer Farooq’s sister Rabia is a doctor and lives in the US. Iqbal and Bilal, sons of head of the Jammu & Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party Hashim Qureshi, live in London. Asiya Andrabi, who heads the Dukhtaran-e-Millat and has been instrumental in setting up a base for a jihadist movement in Kashmir, had sought Indian passports for her sons to send them to Malaysia, where her sister’s family lives, for studies.
Similarly, Pakistan too is double-faced. It vouches for Kashmir’s azadi but shies away to talk about the kind of azadi in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Those Kashmiris who crave for ‘freedom from India’ forget about the human rights violations and inhuman condition in which people live in the 13,297-sq km region (PoK) under the Pakistan occupation .
Indians should not say Kashmir is an integral part of India, they should say ‘Kashmiris are integral part of India’. Because the place matters, but the people in that region matter the most.
When we talk about bringing the Kashmiri youth into the mainstream, we should mean it. Kashmiri youths studying or working in other parts of the country should not be seen with suspicion as the feeling of alienation is further aggravating the problem in the Valley. Instead, they should be considered integral part of any group, debate, discussion or activity.
Kashmir is the crown of India, let us give this crown the respect it deserves.

Policing the Police

There is a well-known Latin expression attributed to the first- and second-century Roman poet Juvenal that can roughly be translated as ‘who will guard the guardians’, or ‘who will watch the watchdogs’. Although Juvenal was not referring to oppression by custodians of the state per se, the expression has often been applied to state violence, whether under colonial or dictatorial regimes, or by state security forces functioning under democratic governments. Hence, ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’, has also been expanded and delivered as the following question: who will police the police?
In an environment where nobody watches the watchdogs, police use of force may be neither lawful nor justified, and neither reasonable nor proportionate, to a perceived threat. The use of force in itself cannot be eliminated from the functions of the police; the function is indeed the essence of policing, whether for defensive or offensive purposes, or as a means to discipline and control in general. It is the abuse of this function, therefore, that needs to be a matter of debate concerning police behaviour and accountability. Combined with norms and customs of policing in given social and political contexts, these matters loosely form what is understood as police culture.
The officers who died in Dallas, US, this July may not necessarily have had physical abuses recorded in their professional histories individually, but they were collectively part of a system where a militarised mindset has been actively breeding over the last few decades and shaping the culture of policing as it gets rooted deeper and deeper. It is a mindset that is encouraging cops to perceive themselves as soldiers, because of policies that have sought to divide the police from the very populace they were entrusted to protect.
Who will watch the watchdogs? Civilians were never meant to be viewed as the enemies of the police in democratic societies such as the United States. Indeed, the police were meant to ‘serve and protect’, not judge or punish, and never to racially discriminate. Even the practice of pointing guns at unarmed protesters has been frowned upon.
America’s ‘wars’ on poverty that progressed into the ‘war on crime’ (since the Johnson administration), on drugs (since the Nixon and Reagan administrations), on terrorism (under presidents Bush and Obama), and war rhetoric and policies in general employed by both Republicans and Democrats, have promoted a process of ‘othering’ or ‘us versus them’ between two structures in a society. These are developments taking place in the foreground of a country where there are more gun shops than McDonald’s or Starbucks. And they have led to devastating outcomes — as witnessed in Ferguson in 2014 and Dallas recently — when both sites of protests resembled contemporary urban warzones.
But in the background, this is not just ‘an American issue’; these are trends witnessed in police cultures around the world, particularly in societies prone to multiple layers of violent conflicts, such as Pakistan, where the state no longer holds monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, but the police and its various ‘specialised units’ have been assigned as the first line of defence, or ‘frontline soldiers’ in our domestic ‘war against terrorism’. This has been communicated to our police officers at passing-out parades, news conferences, and speeches during political campaigns.
These ‘wars’ on crime, drugs and terrorism have trickled down to nation states like Pakistan, infesting urban areas with the ad hoc response of militarised policing to tackle deep-seated issues — issues that must be addressed by socio-economic and political solutions to civilian grievances.
In Karachi and Delhi, the presence of both cops and paramilitary soldiers creates a dual process of the militarisation of policing. Cops are urged to think, train, arm and act like soldiers; soldiers have been designated with various tasks in urban policing. This is a double whammy for a society that is, firstly, struggling to shrug off its history of colonial policing, and, secondly, planning reforms for the police that will lessen the gap between the cop and the civilian — where the latter is viewed suspiciously by the former, and the former as an untrustworthy predator.
The institutional overlap between the police and the military, through technology transfers and the merging of the duties and responsibilities between cops and soldiers, is the result of an informally militarised policy framework promoted by an insecure state.
Attempts at community policing, whether in South Asia or the US, will be both incomplete and unconvincing to the populace at large if the process of militarised policing is not controlled — and eventually reversed — with professional oversight. However, such thinking needs to take root in the elite circles of policymaking and lobbying, where the advisers to those watching the watchdogs must prioritise human security over the security of the regime. Else, the latter will remain under threat from resistance within and zero-tolerance policing will continue unabated.

Turkey’s Soul: Battlefield of Opposites

The aborted coup reveals the fragile relationship between Islam and democracy. The recent attempt of a military coup has raised more questions than it has answered about the emerging complexities of Turkish politics. This development has sent a shock wave among all the international stakeholders in the region as it generated fear of further destabilisation of an already destabilised region.
The narratives about the occurrence of the coup range from a possible involvement of the Erdogan regime itself so as to further consolidate its unfettered rule by controlling the institution of the military on the one hand to the alleged involvement of the Gulen movement, on the other hand. However, between these two poles, the possibility of a revolt by a section of Kemalist military officers can not be ruled out.
However, it is Erdogan’s allegation of direct involvement of Fateullah Gulen and the Gulen movement in the coup that has received worldwide attention. Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar living in the US since 1998, is credited to have inspired a worldwide Islamic voluntary movement, called Hizmet (service), which runs thousands of secular educational institutions along with inter-faith dialogue centres. The movement has worked closely with Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in pushing the agenda of democratisation of Turkish society and state, which eventually resulted in clipping the powers of the army and jolting the hegemony of the “White Turks” between 2002 and 2012 before the two fell out in 2013 — partly on account of the de-democratisation measures by the Erdogan regime. ‘
The Erdogan regime’s hatred of the Gulen movement is both personal and political. Erdogan is personally convinced that Gulen and the movement have betrayed him by orchestrating the corruption charges involving his family members and inner circle in December 2013. This permanently damaged his political prospect to wear the mantle of Kemal Ataturk. All political regimes in the West Asian and North African region tend to monopolise the political space and fear that autonomous social movements are a threat to them. The Erdogan regime is no different.
The Gulen movement with its powerful network of educational institutions, media and business houses along with its gradual penetration in state sectors, particularly in the police and the judiciary, makes the Erdogan regime fearful of its existence. Moreover, both the AKP and the Gulen movement shared the contemporary Turkish legacy of Islam, development and democracy, at least till 2012. It is not in the interest of any regime to share the legacy upon which rests its legitimacy. This partly explains why the regime sought to crush the movement in the name of “terrorist” with a specific aim of robbing the movement of its “peaceful, non-violent, Islamic and developmental image”. Finally, the conflict between the two emanates from the inherent conflict between the two traditions of Islam: The power-centred political-binary-collectivist narrative of Islam (or Political Islamists) such as the AKP that seeks to control and dominate all aspects of national life and the individualised-Sufistic-ethical-moral-spiritual narrative of Islam, represented by Gulen, that seeks to guide the “political” without directly participating in it.
The 2013 corruption charges provided the first opportunity to the Erdogan regime to finish off the movement. Since then, armed with a massive mandate in 2014, Erdogan sacked and arrested many officials and private persons and systematically took over all Gulen movement-linked institutions. The failed military coup proved to be, in the words of Erdogan himself, “a gift from god” because it will help him (a) win over those who remained unconvinced about regime’s rejection of the corruption charges, (b) eliminate all potentials suspects, dissenting voices and enemies, (c) overcome his growing international isolation, and finally (d) institutionalise himself as the Reis — lifelong serving leader, both of the Turkish nation and the ummah at large.
It is not surprising that within 3-4 days of the failed coup, the regime suspended, arrested and dismissed more than 35,000 officials associated with different government bodies. The coming days would witness more purge of state officials including death penalties. The government may call for snap elections to secure an absolute majority with a view to amending the constitution to make Erdogan the Reis. Within a span of 70 years, the pendulum has swiftly shifted from once Kemalist authoritarianism to Islamist authoritarianism in Turkey, which points out to, among other things, the fragility of the relationship between Islam and democracy.‘Oh, East is East, and West is West, And never the twain shall meet’ – Rudyard Kipling
Five years ago, i walked from Asia to Europe. It took me less than ten minutes. I was in Istanbul, which is the meeting point of East and West, Asia and Europe. You walk across a bridge which spans the Bosporus and you cross over from one continent to the other, you pass from the Orient, with its clothing, and customs and cuisine, to the Occident, with its own cultural climate.
Such contrasts were evident everywhere. On the café-lined streets of Istanbul, there were as many, if not more, women in skirts and modish jeans as there were in headscarves. There were few, if any, who were fully veiled in hijabs. The men wore western-style business suits and ties, and some sported a Turkish fez on their heads. In the splendid shadow of the Blue Mosque, restaurants served skewers of sizzling kebabs along with frothing mugs of Efe, the locally made Turkish beer.
Was it companionable coexistence, or was it a confrontation in the making? As the recent abortive army coup against the rule of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has shown, the contrast was in fact the symptom of a latent conflict between western cosmopolitanism and Islamic orthodoxy.
The Turkish army is said to be a bastion of ‘Kemalism’, the ideological legacy of Kemal Ataturk, the first president of Turkey, who sought to propel his country, willing or unwilling, into what he perceived to be European modernity. Overnight he forbade tokens of Islam such as beards and veils.
Following his death in 1938, there was an increasing – some would say inevitable – backlash against his iconoclastic politics and Turkey began to undergo a gradual but growing shift towards Islamisation, which Erdogan is widely seen to represent. The popular support he received to foil the army coup shows that his views are shared by many of his people.
East is East, and West is West. But Kipling was wrong when he said the two could never meet. As Turkey has shown the two can indeed be made to meet – but only at the risk of a head-on collision. Like the clash in India between Nehruvian secularism and Hindutva saffronisation?
Turkey has entered a phase of instability for a long time to come albeit under the rule of a very popular regime. It is indeed pitiful and paradoxical that while people’s participation in resisting the military coup was hailed as the “victory of democracy,” the post-coup period is increasingly witnessing the “death of democracy”. It is also ironic and tragic that at a time when the world is in dire need of a liberal-moderate Islamic movement in its fight against Wahhabi-Salafi inspired global Islamic terrorism, the Erdogan regime is bent upon destroying the Gulen movement by labelling it as “terrorist”.

Secularism: A Fig Leaf for Indians

A Pakistani poet wrote this about India:
“Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
Ab tak kahan chhupe the bhai?
Woh moorkhta, woh ghaamarpan
Jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai
Aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey
Arre badhai, bohot badhai!”
I will not attempt a verse translation, but the lines say: ‘You turned out to be as stupid as us.’/Congratulations to us, indeed. “Our true nature is finally out: we are not secular, we are Hindu.
The decay of the Congress has produced a predictable, observable effect. It has revealed our majoritarian instinct, exposing it to the world, from which it had been hidden.
Our previous inauthentic assertions of secularism and tolerance are now gone. This change was of course the demand of the movement that brought Narendra Modi to power. It has produced an unintended (for the Hindu majority) consequence that we shall touch upon later.
The change being referred to is observable on two sides. First on the side of the state. Here the majoritarian impulse was restrained since 1947 under Congress which insisted on Nehruvian secularism as the cornerstone of our democracy. This may have initially been from belief but it later also came out of necessity. The Gandhi family’s Parsi, Italian, agnostic roots make them outsiders. They can hardly stand by anything other than tolerance of religious diversity.
State secularism was a top-down imposition on the Hindu upper class which was never enthusiastic about it.
The non-Congress formations at the Centre were dominated by socialists who subscribed to the same inclusive instinct. It showed in their uncomfortable partnerships with Hindutva. When Hindutva showed its inflexibility on first principles, these alliances broke nationally three times. At the state level, it happened more often.
We can accurately accuse these regional parties of hypocrisy. But it is true that they have never actively subscribed to Hindutva because they feel repelled by its aggressive, majoritarian thrust.
And so whether it was these socialists or the Congress that ruled Delhi, the nature of the state was not dissimilar. And even in opposition, the Congress was in the past big enough and influential enough to protect its legacy. Both at the Centre and in regional governments. No longer.
Today, it has become different, under a Hindutva government with an absolute majority. For the first time, the Indian state is comfortable expressing its majoritarian nature. The BJP government is echoing its constituency, and feels no shame in doing this. This is an observable fact. The resentment and anger that its voters feel against the appeasement of Muslims, the proselytization by Christians and the mollycoddling of dalits and adivasis, all of this the government also feels.
The uncompromising nature of this sentiment has meant the government no longer reaches out to assure its weaker citizens that it has their interest also in mind. Today, when the state feels the hurt it will retaliate with violence.
One example will suffice: Ishrat Jahan. The state is openly justifying its murder of a citizen because it suspected her of mala fide intent. More interestingly, the media has backed this justification.
Till very recently, our media cleaved to that tolerant ideal mentioned earlier because newspapers tend to be liberal and are disengaged from much reader feedback. Today TV stations scan social media in the afternoon to determine the angle of attack on their evening debates. The average user of this social media is anglicized, urban, upper class and upper caste: Hindutva’s base. It should not surprise us that its view and its anger have come to dominate the mainstream media. Through twitter, the soul of this nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.
Elsewhere, the Hindu majoritarian instinct has always controlled the cultural space (it is why there is zero dalit, Muslim, adivasi representation in our popular culture — meaning the characters of film, television and advertising). This instinct is no longer suppressed by authority. Its consequences are no longer effaced, and not even an attempt is made to counter them, if only through platitudes.
The Congress decades hid an essential fact: subcontinental man is not tolerant. He is majoritarian. In his ideal state, the minorities exist on sufferance. His model constitution is the Pakistani one, because it puts minorities in their place by law and not only by practice. It is this model that Hindutva aches for, the one that legitimizes the mistreatment of others.
That is the unintended consequence referred to earlier. We have revealed ourselves as being no different from Pakistanis, whose bigotry we used to juxtapose against our tolerance

The Worship of False Gods over the Ages

Europe in the medieval period offers a useful prism through which we may examine jihadism, and understand its working. The contours of that period are strangely familiar, characterized as they were by enormous social dislocation. The rise of great cities, built on the production of goods and on organized trade, had given birth to new social classes, which were seeking to dismantle the feudal order. There was a rising tide of immigrants, flooding into the cities from the impoverished countryside, but often finding only misery.
Intense intellectual ferment also characterized the times. In 1417, Poggio Bracciolini, an unemployed papal secretary, hunted down a copy of the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus’s long-lost De rerum natura in a German monastery, reintroducing into the world the radical philosophical idea that the world was created not by the will of god, but the random collision of particles.
And to understand the jihadists of the Islamic State, step back in time to Europe of the medieval period The history of millenarian movements teaches us, though, to read jihadism as a part of a landscape marked by the rise of a violent new right — witness the obscenities of Joseph Kony in Uganda and Mexico’s murderous Narco-Evangelists to India’s Hindutva and Europe’s New Right.
“In the Temple of Solomon and the portico”, wrote the chronicler Raymond d’Aguilers, witnessing the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, “crusaders rode in blood to the knees and bridles of their horses”. He recorded “marvelous works”: “Some of the pagans were mercifully beheaded, others pierced by arrows plunged from towers, and yet others, tortured for a long time, were burned to death in searing flames”. “Jerusalem was now littered with bodies and stained with blood”, D’Aguilers approvingly went on, “the blood of pagans who blasphemed God there for so long”.
The mind of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who drove his truck into a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, killing 84 people, is closed to us forever. The fragments we have access to are fragmentary, sometimes paradoxical: A man fascinated by Islamic State beheading videos but also by drug-fuelled sexual excess; a man who who tore up his child’s teddy bears and drawn to small-time crime; a man diagnosed with mental illness, but capable of meticulously planning his attack.
From d’Aguilers’ account, though, we learn one key thing. Islamist violence, in spite of the aesthetics it sometimes adopts, is a product of our modern times, not the medieval era — yet, it is too easy to think of this ultra-violence as a phenomenon of our time alone. There are important lessons to be learned from the past about the circumstances in which millenarian cults like the Islamic State flourish and grow.
Nicolaus Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, published just before his death in 1543, would lay the scientific foundations for a revolution in our conception of the universe.
Flowering in the midst of this new world, though, were a great number of millenarian death cults, a grim counterpart, as it were, to the making of the Enlightenment world. These movements, the scholar Norman Cohn noted in his masterwork, In Pursuit of the Millennium, were much like modern jihadism, in casting themselves as different from “all other struggles known to history, a cataclysm from which the world is to emerge totally transformed and redeemed”.
The case of the Adamites, so named for their peasant leader, who proclaimed himself both Adam and Moses, is instructive. From their island stronghold on the Nezarka River, near Neuhaus, contemporary accounts tell us, the Adamites waged a holy war against nearby villages. Every man, woman, and child was cut down or burned alive. Blood, the Adamites believed, had to flow as high as a horse’s head.
In October 1421, the Adamites were exterminated — fighting to the end, their fanatic resistance fuelled by their leader’s prophecy that the 400-strong trained army arrayed against them would be struck blind by god.
Jan Bockelson, alternately, founded the Anabaptist regime of Münster in the 1520s, preparing for the imminent coming of Christ with freewheeling polygamy, bizarre entertainments, and the execution of all dissidents. As the imperial army besieged Münster, followers were told god had granted them the strength of a hundred enemies; They would suffer neither hunger, thirst nor fatigue.
Even as the population starved, though — many begging Bockelson’s mercenaries to deliver them and their children the coup de grace — they refused the imperial army’s offers of an honorable surrender.
This millenarianism, Cohn noted, “drew its strength from a population living on the margin of society”. Traditional kinship networks and societies having disintegrated in changing times, these groups created their own around charismatic prophets.
Farhad Khosrokhavar, a French sociologist who has extensively interviewed incarcerated terrorists, has described jihadism in similar terms — “individualism through death”. Killers like Bouhlel, his work suggests, are severed from their traditional cultural ties, without having made the transition to cultural modernity. In nihilist violence, they find liberation.
In a larger sense, Khosorokhavar argues this is true of many West Asian societies. The region, he notes, has seen the “dismantling of traditional communities through state action and a new market economy but without the positive side effects of the latter”. Islamism offers the illusion of a just alternative, founded on god’s will, not man’s caprice.
Early in the 16th century, the Book of a Hundred Chapters, an apocalyptic text written by an anonymous publicist who lived in the upper Rhine, demonstrated the durability of these fantasies. He prophesied the coming of a Brethren of the Yellow Cross, who would “control the whole world from West to East by force of arms”. For this age of terror, it had a motto: “Soon we will drink blood for wine!”
It is fascinating to contemplate just how close this language is to that of modern jihadist texts. “History does not write its lines except with blood,” wrote Abdullah ’Azzam, founding patriarch of the Arab jihadists in Afghanistan, revered by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State alike. “Glory does not build its lofty edifice except with skulls; honor and respect cannot be established except on a foundation of cripples and corpses”.Like ’Azzam, the crusaders fetishised martyrdom: One chronicle records the story of Jakelin de Mailly, a knight of the order of the Templars, killed fighting Muslim raiders on May 1, 1187, whose genitals were cut off and preserved so they might, if divine providence permitted it, beget an heir with similar valour.
The history of millenarian movements teaches us, though, to read jihadism as a part of a landscape marked by the rise of a violent new right — witness the obscenities of Joseph Kony in Uganda and Mexico’s murderous Narco-Evangelists to India’s Hindutva and Europe’s New Right. These crisises emerge from cultural shocks, in turn the outcome of demographic and economic transformations more rapid than any in history. Failed by states in these times of crises, peoples have turned to gods.
Fighting jihadist movements needs intelligence services and policemen. It needs military resources and geo-strategic responses. It also, however, needs a better politics.

Trump will Trump Hillary-Obama Team

The birds in America, Mr President, are not chirping as beautifully as you think. Not in living memory has a sitting US president rooted so hard for his party’s candidate, and so scathed the other party’s. But Big O nurses a grudge against The Donald, who kept trying to prove that he was born outside the US, and therefore became president illegally. Big O also thinks highly of his own intellect: Trump for him is an ignoramus, a buffoonish one at that.
The rise of Trump, in fact, can now be explained much better. Americans are sick of the image-managed political establishment. They are tired of being so politically correct all the time, which has made them fake and unable to say what they feel. The lower economic sections find existing politicians too slick and incapable of improving their lives. Trump’s apparent lack of taste and class (according to the elitists) actually endears him to these sections, which relate to him more than to any other candidate. As far as Trump’s fake claims, exaggerations and vicious attacks are concerned, they are real, but that’s no different from any other politician who may simply do it in a more polished manner.
Last fall, when campaigning began for the Democratic Party’s nomination, it was widely assumed that Clinton, towering above her potential rivals, would be coronated as the candidate in no time. But an unknown figure with limited links to the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders, made the going really tough for her.
At the end of the gruelling primaries, Clinton barely managed to edge out Sanders. A self-proclaimed socialist, Sanders won 1,846 delegates to Clinton’s 2,205 in the primaries and caucuses. Beyond these impressive numbers, Sanders mobilised many important sections of the electorate in favour of structural change in American politics. Many of his supporters believe the electoral system is rigged against outsiders. They want the Democratic Party’s platform to reflect their growing anxieties, especially regarding economic globalisation and the militarisation of American foreign policy.
The intensity of these sentiments poses three big challenges for Clinton in Philadelphia this week. The first is about signaling unity of the party after the deeply divisive primary process. If Cleveland saw the Republicans wash their dirty linen in public, it will not be easy for the Democrats to hide their differences in Philadelphia.
Unlike many leaders in the Republican party who refused to endorse Trump, Sanders has backed Clinton and emphasised the importance of defeating Trump. But those who rallied behind him are not entirely there yet. At the moment, no one is sure how they might behave at the convention and outside it. Hundreds of Sanders’ supporters were in the streets of Philadelphia over the weekend protesting against the rigging of the process in favour of Clinton. Sanders’ assertions to this effect, over the past few months, have been vindicated by hacked emails from the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. The leaked emails show the committee plotting to derail Sanders’ campaign and help Clinton. The confirmation of foul play has forced the DNC chairperson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to offer her resignation.
The left wing of the party, rallying behind Sanders, is also upset with the choice of Senator Tim Kaine as Clinton’s choice as the vice-presidential candidate. While Kaine has been welcomed by the establishment as a ‘‘safe’’ and ‘‘uncontroversial’’ figure, the liberals would have liked to see a more progressive candidate.
The divisions in both parties are real, and reflect the deep sense of anger and frustration at the state of affairs in the country. That brings us to the second challenge facing Clinton — overcoming the perception that she belongs to the ancien regime at a moment when the demand for change has gained so much traction.
After two terms of the Democratic Party’s control of the White House, the “anti-incumbency” factor does work against Clinton. At the same time, she is not in a position to distance herself too much from Obama, whose stock among the party faithful and minorities is very high.
Meanwhile, Trump is branding Clinton as the “candidate of the status quo”. Ideally, her expansive experience in Washington should have been a plus for Clinton in the fight against the boorish Trump, a rank outsider. Trump, however, is trying to turn her record into a political burden. He has argued that Clinton reflects all that is wrong with Washington and its misrule.
That a billionaire like Trump is accusing the leader of the left-of-centre Democratic Party of being a professional politician in cahoots with Wall Street and big corporates is the essence of the extraordinary political inversion that Trump is trying to engineer during the current elections.
Third, Trump is trying to put Clinton on the defensive on two big issues — free trade and muscular foreign policy – by discarding the Republican orthodoxy on American globalism. In detaching the Republican Party from neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy, Trump has shocked many elements of the establishment. The leading lights of the Republican foreign policy establishment, for example, have denounced Trump as unfit for the American presidency. But Trump has found some resonance among the working classes by blaming free trade for the loss of manufacturing jobs in America and 15 years of military adventurism in West Asia for imposing such high costs on the United States.
Trump’s attack on America’s foreign and economic policies in Washington is not very different from that of Sanders. Having positioned himself to the left of Clinton, Trump is unabashed in appealing to the supporters of Sanders to join the contest against the globalist establishment. Most of Sanders’ supporters are bound to vote for Clinton, given their distaste for Trump. The overall poll numbers continue to favour Clinton. But the race is tightening as Trump cuts across the traditional dividing lines between the two parties. Finding an effective response to this new dynamic will severely test Clinton’s considerable political skills this week in Philadelphia and through the campaign this summer and autumn.
They are already neck and neck in the polls. Trump, long trailing Hillary, has caught up with her mainly because of viruses found in her home email server. Obama has jumped into the act to rescue Hillary. Already the FBI has refused to press charges against her. It’s no secret that there is no love lost between Michelle-Barack and Hill-Bill. But now is not the time for such niceties. Obama wants to protect his legacy from a Trump invasion: Obamacare, the deal with Iran, pretty much anything that Obama has done would be at risk were The Donald to make it.
Bill Clinton used to call Al Gore the greatest vice president in US history, but they fell out after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, so much so that Gore felt that Bill would taint his presidential campaign and shooed him away from it. Bill could only watch, in consternation and frustration, as another not-so-bright spark, George W Bush, took over with the promise to unravel whatever he had done.
Trump is not as stupid as the liberals portray him. In a recent interview with the New York Times, which is running a virtual campaign against his presidency, he stated that the US was in no position to point fingers at others when its own house was burning. Obama then came out and said that there was nothing to worry about, that the birds were chirping fine in America. Sure they are, Mr President, but birds also chirp when fires are lighting up the sky.
The Donald promises to give Iran the heave-ho. Hillary really didn’t have much to do with the Iran deal. The discovery of vast amounts of shale oil in the US convinced the Obama-Kerry duo to dump the Arabs, as well as the Israelis, America’s hitherto longstanding allies, a move that has forced the two into a strong clasp against the Persians. The lay American doesn’t get foreign policy much, nor is she really interested in it, so she has taken what Obama-Kerry have been mouthing about Iran at face value. But she knows enough to understand that the Arabs and the Israelis have long been seen by her country as friends, whereas the Iranian Ayatollahs were always the mad, bad guys, who had imprisoned over a fifty Americans for over a year.
On Muslims, Hillary-Obama keep insisting that the US is not at war with Islam. And certainly not Christianity. But Islamo-Christian relations have remained tense for fourteen hundred years. Even though they might have waxed and waned some, they have always remained in the red. Now just seems to be another one of those high tides of mutual angst. Trump could be characterized as anti-Muslim, but his anti-Muslim rhetoric has hit a raw nerve in the American. The shootings in San Bernardino, California, where a Muslim couple took the lives of friendly colleagues who had organized a baby shower for them unnerved Americans as perhaps nothing else since 9/11.
Open societies like the US, France and India are held to a higher standard, often by those who preach and practice prejudice the most, and that too openly. The hate-mongers tend to forget that everybody is human: that the same red blood flows in everybody’s veins, and that they can be paid back in their own coin. Hillary-Obama are glossing over the fears and anxieties of Americans. Yes, they should not be stoked and fanned as The Donald is doing, but should they be ignored and shunted aside?
One could argue that it’s war now, and that all is fair in love and war, and that the US has been bombing and droning Muslims to death. Sure it has, but then some Americans too can counter that all is fair in love and war. If residents of a country want to wage arms against it, they are welcome to go to the killing fields of Syria and Iraq. Why take it out on your friends and colleagues? This one issue alone has struck such a chord amongst Americans that it promises to sweep Trump into the White House.
And Hillary-Obama, Trump is not mentally deranged and an intellectual retard as you keep making him out to be. He is a man, who, while he did get a leg-up from his papa, is now worth ten billion dollars. Americans respect money, respect those who have made it, and respect them even more when they flaunt it. Sure there must have been some shady deals in between–nobody gets to ten billion without some grease on one’s hands–but then who’s talking? Hillary? Whose entire career seems to have been one long, never-ending ethics violation. And she doesn’t even have a bill to show for it.
The elder Bush underestimated Bill Clinton and got screwed. Al Gore looked down upon Bush junior and was had. Hillary felt entitled against Big O in 2008, and was taken to the cleaners. Why are Hillary-Obama making the same mistake with Trump now?

Urban neo-liberalism

The vocabulary and concepts of neo-liberalism, rather than any philosophic understanding of it, have guided urban planning and policy, especially in the developing world, since the early 1990s. This has had a major impact in shaping the physical and social architecture of cities in the so-called Global South. The neo-liberal agenda has been aggressively pursued by international institutions and Western academia and their Third World dependants. However, this agenda has not only failed to deliver housing and infrastructure to low and lower middle-income groups, it has also promoted massive socio-economic disparity.
One cornerstone of neo-liberalism is that “it is not the business of the state to do business”. This has led to the state handing over many of its responsibilities to an exploitative private sector that, almost universally, has become more powerful than the state and now dictates urban development policies. We are also told that cities are ‘engines of growth’. However, we do not mention that the most vulnerable cities have declining resources and GDPs per capita. We are also told that instead of generating their own resources, cities should depend on ‘direct foreign investment’ from the international market. This concept has replaced planning with projects, most of which ignore larger environmental and social concerns, and the fact that the most needy cities are not investment or loan-worthy.
Another concept that has been promoted is that of the ‘world class city’. According to this, the city has to be recognised by some iconic architecture such as the highest building or fountain in the world. It is rumoured that the Karachi Port Trust fountain was built according to this concept. It is seldom operative and has not helped in accessing foreign investment.
Today, the global slum population is over one billion. In addition, the city has to be branded for a particular cultural, industrial or other activity (such as Formula One or Fifa) and should also be an international event city for which it should bid. For the creation of spaces for these events (which the poor cannot afford to participate in), there have been large-scale evictions of poor families which have made them even poorer than before. In Delhi alone, for the Asian Olympics, over 500,000 persons lost their homes. In the case of the Beijing Olympics, the figure is even higher.
The concept also promotes the idea that housing should be accessed from the ‘market’. But, the market is unaffordable for low and lower middle-income groups whose only option is to seek homes in informal settlements. The latter are located today on the extreme fringe of rapidly expanding cities, far from places of work and social sector facilities. The only other option is to densify existing settlements to the extent of severe overcrowding, with all its social and physical repercussions.
The ‘world class city’ concept believes in the creation of high-rise apartments as opposed to upgraded settlements. This is in spite of the fact that, at an average, upgrading costs $325 per unit as opposed to $5,400 for apartments. Upgrading also preserves the existing socio-economic strengths of the community and through pilot projects we know that it provides a better social and physical environment than high- or medium-rise options while providing similar densities.
What is also promoted is the building of signal-free roads (which are considered investment-friendly infrastructures and are a living hell for pedestrians and commuters) rather than restricting the purchase of automobiles and managing traffic better. In their official literature, many cities in the world wish to be ‘world class’ cities including Karachi and Mumbai. If they had opted to be ‘pedestrian and commuter-friendly cities’, like Curitiba, their citizens would have been much happier.
In spite of targets, large-scale funding and promises, conditions have deteriorated. According to the UN, between 1998 and 2008, 18.59 million persons lost their homes for these reasons. This figure has now increased to 15m per year. In 1990, the global ‘slum’ population was 650m. Today, it is over one billion and continues to increase.
Neo-liberal development is all about gentrification and extracting the maximum value out of land at any cost. But gentrification that is at the expense of the most vulnerable sections of the population and which promotes inequity, divides the population along class and ethnic lines, and deprives people of homes and livelihoods cannot deliver conflict-free cities.
The statistics tell a sad story. However, the most serious repercussions of neo-liberalism are that its structure of thinking and concepts have made deep inroads into academia and professional institutions, many of which are producing unquestioning neo-liberals, teachers and practitioners, and creating an increasing gulf between the field and the people on the one hand and the classroom and planning practice on the other. An informed conversation on this crisis is necessary.

Ambivalent Warrior?

Much to the relief of President Ashraf Ghani, Nato has extended its mission in Afghanistan through 2017. The alliance reaffirmed its commitment to the troubled campaign at the Warsaw summit, as mass migration from Afghanistan continues to cause ripples across Europe.
Although the participants pledged to continue funding and training Afghan security forces, the overstretched alliance itself is up against the odds. The recent bombing in Nice, the war in Syria, the botched military coup in Turkey and growing confrontation with Russia are some of the key challenges before it.
Given the scale of the multiple crises, the coalition is unlikely to turn around the bleak situation in the conflict-torn country. On the face of it, Nato’s renewed vow is a signal it is not rushing for an exit. The decision follows President Barack Obama’s announcement to leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of his term
Unable to cope with the progressively dismal security and economic conditions on the domestic front, Ghani’s effusive appreciation of Nato’s move is understandable. It will give him much-needed breathing space.
In the build-up to the summit, Obama proclaimed the 15-year war in Afghanistan would drag into the tenure of his successor. True to form, he went back on his vow to withdraw all American men and women in uniform from the country before his exit from office.
Obama has chosen to prolong the war in Afghanistan. His latest volte-face is chiefly driven by what he calls the precarious security situation in Afghanistan, whose defence establishment is still not as strong as it needs to be. In all fairness, the decision is a dangerous nostrum that may lead to wider anarchy in the country.
If his tactical gambits in the past are any guide, the new shift is unlikely to help his successor take an easy decision on America’s presence in Afghanistan. In fact, his 2014 statement rang truer: It is harder bringing wars to a close than starting them.
During his two terms in the White House, the president looked rather pushy about setting arbitrary timelines — and then changed his mind without any good reason. To boot, his kaleidoscopic moves have tended to reinforce a ruthless Taliban insurgency that has undermined the writ of the government in Kabul.
Without learning a jot from the Iraqi quicksand, Obama — branded as a reluctant warrior — chose to prolong the war in Afghanistan. The militant Islamic State group, rising from the ashes of hostilities, has now found new breeding ground in Afghanistan.
Today, Daesh fighters are making inroads into eastern and northern Afghanistan. High-casualty attacks and firefights in Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Badakhshan provinces have not only highlighted the tenuous hold of the Ghani administration, but also underscored America’s debatable military strategy.
Despite an exponential increase in targeted killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, IS is steadily expanding its foothold in different countries. After the Iraq debacle, the US ratcheted up troop levels in Afghanistan in 2009 but then pulled them back faster than commanders on the ground suggested.
Exasperated by his failure, he promised a responsible end to the war and a reduction in troop numbers to the normal embassy presence. Knowingly or unwittingly, he has put more US troops in harm’s way by pledging to maintain the present military presence until 2017.
Obama’s unworkable plans have neither brought security to Afghanistan nor enabled him to reclaim the ‘American Dream’. His obsession with the military option notwithstanding, the president still acknowledges the only way to achieve a full drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan is through a durable political settlement.
At the same time, the Afghan Taliban’s assertion that their persistent fighting prowess is the main factor behind Obama’s oscillation also sounds accurate. In the circumstances, there is little reason to be optimistic about the future of the long-elusive peace parleys. Efforts by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table have fizzled out largely due to Washington’s ambivalent policy.
With the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike, the US has intentionally hampered result-oriented talks. In addition to laying bare America’s double standard, the raid has also driven the Taliban further away from the negotiating table.
How can you interact with a group whose leadership you take out at a critical time? How can you woo Pakistan, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbour, into facilitating reconciliation talks by violating its sovereignty with a disturbing frequency?
To make sure 15 years of American investments and sacrifices in Afghanistan come to fruition, Obama’s successor would have to embrace the patent reality that military power alone cannot translate into outright victory in the absence of political courage to own up to past mistakes and keep them from recurring.

India Falters on South China Sea: First Foreign Policy Failure of Modi Govt

Sushma is one of the best foreign ministers India ever had, and is a great asset for Modi. And , she falters. Yes, falters for the first time-falters, faced as she is with a cunning and extremely shrewd opponent- the wily dragon in the north. In the last century before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Roman literary critic Horace famously wrote, “quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus” – sometimes, even Homer nods. Did Sushma Swaraj nod when she was in Moscow for the tripartite meeting between India, China and Russia on 18th April this year? For, with the proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the complaint lodged against China by the Philippines drawing to an imminent conclusion, she seems to have slept off when her delegation acquiesced in the wording of paragraph 21 of the joint communiqué.The verdict of the international tribunal over South China sea has collaterally vindicated the maritime concerns of Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and obviously, the principal litigant Philippines. Enforcement of the verdict aside, the legitimacy of China as a responsible power is formally tainted — a dangerous import for China’s strategic aspirations. Incompatibility and belligerence with prevailing international laws and verdicts can impact crucial transactions in a globally aligned world, especially for China, which is the world’s largest export economy.
While the verdict nailed the Chinese falsity of historic claims on the rocky outcrops at sea, sovereign rights, construction of artificial islands, commercial aspects like fishing and petroleum exploration etc, it did not mention the overarching sweep of geostrategic intent that subsumes the intentions and actions of the Chinese behaviour.
China’s bizarre claims to 90 per cent (using the “nine-dash line” methodology) of the South China Sea owe its brazenness to insecurities of ensuring control on the $5 trillion seaways. In 2015, Chinese exports and imports were $2.2 trillion and $1.6 trillion respectively, leaving a very positive balance of payment status. This bankrolling hinges on the uninterrupted free flow of goods out of, and into, the Chinese mainland. The oft-quoted “overheated” economic infrastructure and model is essentially energy-guzzling and vulnerably thirsty. This economic susceptibility, coupled with the historic disputes with wary neighbours and the US, posits the real issue of regime survival and the seaway to a bi-polar world, with China fancying itself as the fundamental “other”.Pursuant to this hegemonic dream are tectonic initiatives like the “One Belt, One Road”, which connects the energy-flush Central Asian nations and Europe with China’s hinterland, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. However, the more immediate and semi-working geopolitical approach
Pursuant to this hegemonic dream are tectonic initiatives like the “One Belt, One Road”, which connects the energy-flush Central Asian nations and Europe with China’s hinterland, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. However, the more immediate and semi-working geopolitical approach of safeguarding and promoting the Chinese interests and assets is the fabled “string of pearls”. This envisages a dual, commercial-military Chinese footprint along the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) dotted with both natural and artificial ports (like the recently contested Spratly archipelago, which saw over 3,400 acres of land reclamation) in the contentious South China Sea, right up to the ports along the African coastline.
Besides, the South China Sea based “pearl ports”, the foreign ports envisaged to be stringed are Sittwe and Coco Islands (Myanmar), Chittagong (Bangladesh), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Marao Atoll (Maldives), Gwadar (Pakistan), Port Sudan (Sudan) etc.These “pearl” ports conceptually ensure clear passage for Chinese traffic and, especially protect and dominate veritable choke points like the Strait of Mandeb, Lombok Strait, and Strait of Hormuz. However, the proverbial “chicken’s neck” and the uber-vulnerable passage is the narrow and unavoidable, Straits of Malacca, in the dangerous proximity of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Given that 80
These “pearl” ports conceptually ensure clear passage for Chinese traffic and, especially protect and dominate veritable choke points like the Strait of Mandeb, Lombok Strait, and Strait of Hormuz. However, the proverbial “chicken’s neck” and the uber-vulnerable passage is the narrow and unavoidable, Straits of Malacca, in the dangerous proximity of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Given that 80 per cent of Chinese fuel passes through this narrow strait (only 1.5 nautical miles wide at the Philips Chanel), connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, coupled with a reality of 2 to 3 weeks of known strategic fuel reserves available on the Chinese mainland, the nightmare of even a temporary blockage would be debilitating and irreversibly damaging to the Chinese juggernaut. It is unarguably, the world worst maritime choke point with over 1,00,000 vessels crossing annually, and accounting for a fourth of the world’s trade.
Choking herein, is the ultimate (and the most plausible) doomsday situation for China, from a traffic perspective. Militarily and legitimately, only India has the real estate to dominate the mouth or the entry of the narrow passage, given the providential geography and the clean status to the property papers (unlike the ports involved in recent fracas of the South China Sea, the Andaman and Nicobar is a shining outpost and indisputably Indian from a “claim” perspective). India, like China, is a signatory to the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas) that mandates a certain maritime behaviour and norms. In 2014, India had accepted an unfavourable ruling versus Bangladesh, in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
For now, the international court of arbitration’s verdict is restricted to the China-Philippines context. However, the narrative, template and ground rules for the future engagement with China, and any of the other sparring countries, has been irrevocably altered. India is not a direct party to the issue, but given that the China-Philippines impasse is a sub-component of a wider ecosystem, the national capitals along the South China Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Oceans will be keeping a close watch on the developments as they evolve.
For now, the international court of arbitration’s verdict is restricted to the China-Philippines context. However, the narrative, template and ground rules for the future engagement with China, and any of the other sparring countries, has been irrevocably altered. India is not a direct party to the issue, but given that the China-Philippines impasse is a sub-component of a wider ecosystem, the national capitals along the South China Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Oceans will be keeping a close watch on the developments as they evolve.
The joint communiqué eschewed all reference to the case pending before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It did, of course, refer to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but, without even a break in the sentence, added immediately after a comma, “as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC”.
Had India been alert, she should have immediately asked China how China proposed to reconcile adherence to UNCLOS, which provides for arbitration, with DOC that excludes arbitration. Instead, DOC commits the Philippines and China, along with other ASEAN countries, “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes” through “friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned”. There is nothing there about arbitration under Annexe VII of UNCLOS.
Note the striking similarity between this language and that of the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan that took the issue of Jammu & Kashmir out of the international realm and placed it firmly in the domain of bilateral settlement. This was done by first affirming that “the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern relations between the two countries” – just as the Moscow joint communiqué refers to “the principles of international law, as reflected notably in UNCLOS” – and then going on to unambiguously state that “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations” (or “by any other peaceful means mutually agreed between them.”). No scope is left for third party meddling. That is exactly what China sought through DOC.
This has enabled the Chinese charge d’affaires (acting Ambassador) in New Delhi to claim in an interview to The Hindu (15 July 2016) that India had signed a “common position” statement at the Russia-India-China (RIC) Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow on 18th April 2016. He explained: “There is a paragraph in the RIC statement that stated the common stand of all three countries. This was in support of China’s position”. So are we in support of China’s position?
There is little doubt that the RIC joint communiqué does, in fact, reflect the Chinese stand. So, are we endorsing the Chinese, and negating the position of the other littoral countries of the South China Sea, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei? The MEA spokesman’s answer is, “For us, this is not an issue of being in favour or against any particular country”. Oh yeah? When the arbitration, to which China was not a party, has gone all the way with the Philippines and all the way against China, how can we hold that the verdict must be respected but should not be construed as being in favour of or against either of “the sovereign states directly concerned” – to quote once again from the wording of DOC?
The Hindu report did in fact ask the question of “a senior official of MEA” and was given the brush-off answer, “Diplomacy is the art of reading between the lines.” So, reading between the lines, what are we signaling to China and the world? That we don’t know where we stand? Or that we, too, can be devious and say one thing to please the Chinese, and the opposite to the US and their ASEAN friends? Or not mean what we say or sign? In his reaction to the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the MEA spokesman said, “We believe all parties should show utmost respect to the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order for the seas and oceans.” He added, “the authority of the Annexe VII Tribunal and its award is recognized in Part XV of the UNCLOS itself.” Fine. Then why did we not say so three months earlier in Moscow?
It is crystal clear that the Moscow communiqué did not seek a resolution of differences on issues relating to the South China Sea through resort to the arbitration provisions of UNCLOS, just as the Simla agreement eschews any resort to the UN or any form of international arbitration. The Moscow communiqué then advocates, in effect, that the path of “friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned” should be followed, as laid down in DOC and the DOC Guidelines. No wonder the Chinese charge d’affaires could claim that the MEA spokesman’s clarification “showed nothing that would suggest the Indian government is supporting this award.” Are we? Or does our “giving utmost respect to UNCLOS” mean we are saying, as the Americans and Japanese are, that the PCA award must be accepted by the Chinese, or otherwise enforced on China?
The self-evident contradiction between what we said at Moscow and what we are now saying is perhaps a striking first manifestation of the new principle of our foreign policy vouchsafed by Narendra Modi to his interviewer on a prominent news channel that India had moved from being “non-aligned” to being “multi-aligned”? Is this why we were hunting with the hares in Moscow and then hunting with the hounds in Washington?
For between the Moscow meeting and the Permanent Court of Arbitration award fell two key India-US meetings that dealt, among other matters, with the trouble in the South China Sea. The first was the Delhi meeting in April between Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar and the US Secretary of State for Defense, Ashton Carter. The joint statement issued after their meeting underscored their joint commitment to “safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation throughout the region, including the South China Sea” reinforced by the “Rim-of-the-Pacific multilateral naval exercise” to be held later this year. The South China Sea is the major trouble spot on the Rim of the Pacific. Are we lining up with the US against China here?
Contrast this with the DOC preamble that commits ASEAN and China to “a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment in the South China Sea” and enhancing “favourable conditions for peaceful and durable solutions of differences and disputes among countries concerned”. DOC also seeks to “encourage other countries to respect the principles contained in this Declaration.” So, Parrikar says one thing and Swaraj quite another. Are both on the same page?
Modi then goes to Washington and commits India to being a “Major Defense Partner” of the US. He also jointly affirms with the US President that, “the US and India should look to each other as priority partners in the Asia Pacific”. The South China Sea is right there, in the Asia Pacific region. Are we then multi-aligned to China in Moscow and to the US in Washington?
There is a huge military crisis unfolding in and around the South China Sea. While the US patrols the waters around the South China Sea and conducts aggressive air surveillance, Senator Joni Ernst (Republican), joined by five others, has introduced a resolution calling for the “implementation” of the tribunal’s verdict and, to this end to “reinforce US assets in the region to maintain the status quo”.
China responds that “the temporary tribunal on the South China Sea arbitration is not an international tribunal and its composition and function has no legitimacy… The award given by the tribunal is not authoritative”. It is, adds China, “without binding force.”
There can be no doubt that the award is without binding force. So, military might cannot be brought to “enforce” the verdict, whatever Senator Ernst and his companions might want. If, however, the US executive listens to its hawks and attempts any naval or air action, China has given notice that it might establish an “air defense identification zone in the South China Sea” and unambiguously warns, “If anyone challenges China’s rights and interests by taking provocative actions based on the ruling, China will surely make a resolute response”
We live in very dangerous times. The Second Cold War and, possibly, the Third World War, are in the offing in the South China Sea. Where Nehru’s India neatly sidestepped the first Cold War by preferring non-alignment to alignment, and understood that responsible government cannot be multi-aligned between contested claims with military overtones, Modi is dragging India into the middle of a conflict not of our making. We are perilously close to replacing Pakistan as America’s principal military ally in South Asia.

Jason Kenney: Hope for Alberta

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?  Jason Kenney comes to Alberta the way his namesake legendary Jason came home victorious with Golden Fleece. The frosty winter of economic slowdown, spiralling increase in unemployment, fall in real estate -all because of inept management of NDP, has now hope of a new spring. And this hope is in the person of Jason Kenney, who comes to unite the conservatives and once again provide a government that cares, that provides and sustains.
The 2015 Alberta election will forever be compared to the 1990 Ontario election in that the NDP came out of nowhere to win both elections. But the two elections can also be compared with regard to respectable showing conservatives made in both elections. In 1990, the Tories were wildly unpopular because of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney mostly for the GST (Good & Services Tax). So Ontarians took out their anger on the provincial Liberal government by voting NDP. Despite the unpopularity of the federal Tories, Mike Harris guided the Tories to 20 seats in that election. That showing was the first step towards winning a majority government five years later. Although much of it owed to the Ontario NDP’s incompetence, Harris’ Tories supplanted the Liberals as the alternative to the NDP.
As for Alberta, it seems to me that the conservative vote will coalesce around Kenney. If Notley’s NDP Crue prove not to be up to the task and if Jean can keep Wildrose MLAs and prospective candidates from condemning people to an eternity in the lake of fire and other forms of eternal damnation then I think Tuesday night’s results have begun the groundwork for a Kenney government in Alberta in 2019. In which case, there is still hope for conservatism in Alberta.
I have known  Jason Kenney and have interviewed him on my radio and TV shows, and I found him a man worth his salt. Jason Kenney does not believe in the cult of politically correctness, and calls a spade a spade, and not a crooked agricultural implement. kKenney has the uncanny ability to recognize a total whole from a respectful distance, without the aid of a scope.
A Kenney-led Tory party would just sweep . and sweep better in polls. Rather than being in third place at 22 per cent without Kenney, the PCs instantly jump to 32 per cent and first place with Kenney. Just his announcement filled people with hope. and with his initial announcement alone, Kenney leapfrogs the Tories to the top – in two weeks.
Keeney as a Federal minister was a champion of what almost everyone called “unite the right” last decade, and fancies the Conservative Party of Canada merger as a clear template for Alberta’s Wildrose party (the analog to the Reform/Canadian Alliance faction, which Kenney rose from) and the Progressive Conservatives (the more reluctant side of the would-be merger in Alberta as in Ottawa, and the one which Kenney will run to lead).
In his campaign launch speech, Kenney, 48, indeed avoided explicit reference to the left-right political spectrum. But he did twice express an urgent need to get the province “back on the right track.” And then there’s his slogan, “Unite Alberta.” So if the dichotomy he’s sketching isn’t left against right, it’s unified, common-sense “us” against social-engineering, big-government “them”; or, in the modern Canadian conservative movement’s Reform heartland, a unified “Alberta” against . . . something that doesn’t feel like Alberta.
The Tories who have led in the decade since Klein have prided themselves on the party name’s duality, positioning themselves so rivals on one side said they lacked any progressive nature and those on the other said they weren’t actual conservatives. As much as he maintains his vision, he does convey an unambiguous choice to voters.
⦁ Pick Jason Kenney your leader and quit pissing around.
⦁ Get behind him 100% and quit bickering.
⦁ Run off anyone who isn’t 100% behind the fundamentals of true fiscal conservatism.
⦁ Run off the religious nutcases and those with the social agendas.
⦁ Get out and sell a real achievable conservative message of fiscal responsibility directly to the people.
⦁ It will be increasingly harder for the Liberals and Socialists to satisfy the Takers because they are broke.
⦁ Forget about the liberals like Winch says, they are a waste of time. No converting the takers in society.
⦁ Tell the left wing mainstream media to F-off like Donald Trump does. They are the mouthpiece of the enemy.
⦁ Campaign on facts, reality, and things that matter like a healthy economy and the reduction of debt.
⦁ Forget the crap like, legalization of dope, immigrant give aways, and the lies of climate change. These are the distraction tools for Liberals to hide the real disaster of their spending and debt.
⦁ Ya, clean up the environment , but not in the name of a bloody wealth redistribution scheme called a carbon tax in the name of climate change.

China Siding with Pakistan is Clear Message To India

On July 19, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman dropped his usual reticence to unilaterally comment on the escalating crisis in the Kashmir Valley, in which nearly 50 people have been killed in the violence so far following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
“China has taken note of relevant reports. We are equally concerned about the casualties in the clash, and hope that the relevant incident will be handled properly,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in remarks posted on the Foreign Ministry website.
So as Chinese State Councillor and Special Representative on the Sino-Indian boundary dispute Yang Jiechi comes to Delhi next month to take forward the 20th round of talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, both sides are hoping they will separate the ongoing bitterness from the business on the ground.
India and China seem to be hitting a downward spiral, with China not-so-subtly warning India that it could take Pakistan’s side in the Kashmir dispute, especially if relations deteriorate to the point that Beijing feels it continues to be challenged by Delhi in the wake of the debacle at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Certainly, Delhi would like the Chinese to drop its objections to its application to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The US has promised to hold a plenary meeting of the NSG to reconsider India’s application before the year is out, and Delhi doesn’t want the Chinese to play spoilsport again.
But the truth is that the Indian establishment still doesn’t fully understand the length to which the Chinese are prepared to go to deny India membership of the NSG. Not only does Beijing not want to see Delhi on the same page as itself, because it believes it is a much more powerful nation compared to India – certainly, its economy is five times larger – it also wants to be seen as a big power which is ready to shape the world in its own image. In this image, Pakistan is not only a special friend and all-weather ally, it is also chief lackey.
Make no mistake, China’s refusal of India’s application at the NSG and its commentary on the Kashmir dispute are being made for two reasons. First, Beijing wants an acknowledgment that it is a ranking Asian power, and second, it wants India back on the same plane as Pakistan.
If the world has to hyphenate two Asian countries, believe the Chinese, the hyphenation has to be between India and Pakistan, not between Delhi and Beijing. The Americans are trying to sell India the latter dream, say Chinese analysts. They hope to debunk this as soon as possible.
That is why China is laying such store by “procedure” at the NSG – even when it is ready to trash the recent judgment of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration which debunked Chinese claims to the South China Sea.
The need to be seen as a big maritime and land power is driving President Xi Jinping’s policy. Senior Chinese Communist party leaders such as the aforesaid Yang Jiechi and former state councilor in charge of foreign affairs in the Central Committee (and also a former Special Representative on the border talks) Dai Bingguo have been fielded in recent weeks to explain to worldwide audiences why Beijing will not abide by the Arbitration verdict in favour of the Philippines.
In fact, Beijing’s assertiveness has already frightened the Philippines and further divided ASEAN. Robert Duterte, recently elected President of the Philippines has said that he will walk back from the bitterness with China. Other ASEAN nations such as Laos and Cambodia are also willing to bend before China.)
Even South Korea, a major non-NATO ally of the US, capitulated to China’s arms control negotiator Wang Qun at the NSG plenary in Seoul last month when Wang insisted that procedure must be followed for new applications to the NSG, such as India’s.
Wang’s insistence that such “procedure” cannot be “discriminatory” means that either India must sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – a demand that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj rejected in parliament yesterday – or that Pakistan’s application to the NSG must also be accepted at the same time as India’s.
Certainly, the Chinese have recently begun to manifest a much tighter embrace with Pakistan. Islamabad has been an all-weather friend and ally for decades, but India was becoming a much larger economy, and China saw great advantages in pursuing greater opportunities for trade with India.
But over the last few years, China’s involvement in Pakistan’s economy has grown by leaps and bounds. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an integral part of President Xi’s beloved One Belt, One Road project, and he has promised to invest as much as $46 billion in it.
At the same time, as Prime Minister Modi moved much closer to America – at last count becoming a major defence ally of the US – it seemed as if Delhi was joining hands with other democracies in the region to “contain” China.
On May 18, four ships of the Navy’s eastern fleet – including two guided-missile stealth frigates armed with supersonic anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles, a fleet tanker and a guided missile corvette – sailed towards the South China Sea and the North-Western Pacific for two and a half months. The deployment ended in June with the joint naval “Malabar” exercises off the coast of Okinawa in Japan (a US base is located there), in which the US Navy and Japanese self-defence forces also took part.
Certainly, China’s unusual commentary on Kashmir marks a new inflection point in its relations with India. One school of thought in Beijing believes that Delhi must learn to live with China’s rising power, including with the decision to build the CPEC through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). After all, this school says, India has learnt to live with the Karakoram Highway that was built in the 1970s, which also passes through PoK.
As China becomes more powerful, an ambitious faction in Communist Party circles has started believing that Beijing must get ready to play a bigger role in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan is already a good friend, says this school, and Aksai China is already controlled by China. Why not help resolve the Kashmir dispute too?
Of course, Beijing knows that any mention of Kashmir will be enough to rile the Indian government – especially when Pakistan marked yesterday as “Black Day,” in an effort to commemorate the crisis in the Valley.
As for Prime Minister Modi, he must be taught a lesson if he dares to believe that India can be equal to Asia’s foremost power. “This is China’s not-so-subtle way of putting India in its place,” said an observer of China, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
As Yang Jiechi wends his way to Delhi next month for boundary talks with Ajit Doval, the Indian side will certainly hope to have a heart-to-heart chat with him. It’s another matter whether or how much the Chinese leader will listen – or whether he will just smile softly as Xi Jinping did with Modi, when the latter asked him for support for India’s application to the NSG.

Women: Key to South-East Asia’s Economic Success

Mind the pay gap … women earn 10% less than men for the same job across a majority of the industry, and yet they lead in performance. I am reminded of what, almost half-a-century back, Charlotte Whitton, a feminist and the first female mayor of a major Canadian city, quipped wryly: “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” She was addressing the world where women were still considered inferior, where women were more likely to attend finishing school instead of law school, should they have the opportunity to go to school at all.
Today, society has made commendable progress on the road to achieving socio-economic gender parity. We have much to be optimistic about, especially in South-East Asia. Women in developing markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines have made strides in tertiary education enrollment. Findings from the 2016 Mastercard Index of Women’s Advancement revealed that more women than men enroll in tertiary education across the ASEAN region.
These encouraging figures, however, mask a darker reality, and ASEAN nations have a long way to go before they can close the gender gap in their respective markets. These markets, despite their diverse cultures and unique social landscapes, face a common paradox preventing women from achieving their full economic potential. ASEAN women shine in terms of capability, often outperforming their male counterparts, yet the portion of women in the workforce is consistently lower than that of men across the region.
Why so?
Gender bias exists on a cultural and corporate level in the ASEAN region. Across the board, social norms still prevail which see women adhering to traditional roles as wives and mothers, while men often assume the role of breadwinner. It’s a culture that can discourage women from pursuing their educational or career ambitions, and can also influence perceptions of a woman’s capability. A study commissioned by the Asain Development Bank found that women were perceived to have lower skills for the workforce than men.
In developing or food-insecure markets, boys often have more access to economically viable resources, such as nutrition, land ownership or funds, due to greater adherence to patrilineal inheritance laws, or the prevailing presumption that women are unable to manage such assets. These factors not only obstruct girls from the tools to help them break the prevailing glass ceiling, they also send negative messages about their worth as human beings.
Even in developed markets such as Singapore, which boasts a female employment rate of 89%, women remain stymied in their advancement in corporate and political sectors. Women in managerial positions are also expected to maintain a more compliant attitude; one not expected of men. As a result, they also receive less reward for their efforts. On average, they earn 10% less than men for the same job across a majority of industries.
How does it affect Asia’s economy?
Despite proving their competence, women in South-East Asia continue to face challenges in translating their knowledge assets into financial and economic empowerment. They are often relegated to informal work with no legal protection or employment benefits. In Vietnam for example, only 31% of working women are employed formally, while 69% are engaged in informal work.
Developing nations aren’t the only ones affected by this phenomenon. In Singapore, not only do women earn less than men, but one in every 10 is unable to gain formal work. Unfortunately, the lack of equal advancement opportunities for women creates a vicious cycle that perpetuates their propensity to be marginalized, economically and culturally. It also distances them from necessary vital financial services that could give them independence.
Not surprisingly, the lack of active female participation has costly ramifications on ASEAN’s economy. Simply put, investing too little incompetent women reduces the quality of the workforce and hinders its capacity for competitive growth.
Conversely, investment in women’s advancement is beneficial to GDP. According to McKinsey’s Women Matter 2014 report, if every country matched the progress of gender parity of its fastest growing neighbor, global GDP could increase by $12 trillion by 2025.
Closer to home, Asia’s economy could see a 30% growth in income per capita in one generation if female participation in the workforce rose from 57.7% to 66.2%.
How can we move forward?
The 10 countries of the ASEAN region still have much more ground to cover in the journey towards achieving gender parity, a goal that can only be achieved if it takes precedence as a national, cultural and corporate imperative. Such an endeavor, however, cannot be accomplished by one entity alone: it requires strong collaboration between the public and private sectors.
Governments and policy-makers can help narrow the gender gap by strictly enforcing equality legislation, with an added emphasis on anti-discrimination or workplace harassment laws. The private sector has to address the cultural and organizational issues that prevent women from advancing to the leadership ranks.
Right now, the question for ASEAN is: how can it improve upon the foundations it has already built as it moves towards closing the gender gap? In fact, the prevalence of bright, capable women in the region – ready and eager to do well – should be regarded as an opportunity, rather than a challenge.
While Charlotte Whitton’s observation is still relevant today, as a woman herself she must also be familiar with how much more women can achieve, given their capabilities, should they gain equal access to the right opportunities and tools.

Compensation for doing the right thing: The Ancient Greece way

Good work, without expectation of reward, is rare. It is imperative to extend monetary reward even for getting good and ennobling work done. Recognition, reward or monetary compensation are requisite to goad person. And is has been so right from the hoary past. , The main message of Richard Titmuss’ influential The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy (Titmuss 1971) was this: the use of economic incentives to advance social objectives may be counterproductive. The reason, he suggested, is that fines, bonuses, or other incentives induce people to adopt a ‘market mentality’, compromising pre-existing values that would otherwise lead people to act in generous or civic-minded ways.
Remarkably, both Kenneth Arrow and Robert Solow took the idea seriously enough to review the book (Solow 1971, Arrow 1972). To Arrow it was ‘really an empirical question’ and he was far from persuaded. We have learned a lot since Titmuss about how incentives work and when they do not.
Here is a much-cited example (Gneezy and Rustichini 2000). In Haifa, at six-day care centres, a fine was imposed on parents who were late in picking up their children at the end of the day.
It did not work. Parents responded to the fine by doubling the fraction of the time they arrived late. After 12 weeks, the fine was revoked, but the parents’ enhanced tardiness persisted.
‘Crowding out’ is the usual explanation: the fine transformed picking up your child late and inconveniencing the staff from something that was ethically dubious to something that you could simply buy. Lateness became a marketable commodity.
The experiment has already become the poster child of those wishing to limit the role of incentives in social policy. And with good reason. The crowding out the result is far from exceptional, and is observed in over 40 laboratory and field experiments by economists over the last two decades (Bowles 2016, Bowles and Polania-Reyes 2012).
Crowding out occurs also in natural settings. In Norway, for example, to reduce the turnaround time for patients, fines were imposed on managers whose hospital failed to meet standards. The incentive backfired: hospital stays lengthened. In England, a different approach worked: hospital stays were greatly reduced by a policy designed to evoke shame and pride in hospital managers rather than to rely on the calculus of profit and loss (Holmas et al. 2010, Besley et al. 2009).
But are incentives per se the culprit when crowding out occurs, or is something else at work? On this score, economics – and especially mechanism design – has a lot to learn from Greece at the time of Aristotle. Here is how incentives might be designed to crowd in ethical motives.
When the Athenian citizens’ assembly decided in 325 BCE to set up a colony and naval station in the Adriatic, far to the west of Greece, they took on an enormous project requiring thousands of people and 289 ships (Christ 1990, Ober 2008). Neither the personnel nor the ships were at the moment under public orders; the settlers, oarsmen, navigators, and soldiers would have to be recruited from their private lives, and the ships outfitted for the mission (some would carry horses, since cavalry were involved). Ship commanders and equippers appointed from among Athens’s wealthy were required to bring a fully outfitted ship to the docks at Piraeus by a given date.
Those who felt unjustly burdened could appeal their assignment. They would do this by challenging some other (also presumably wealthy) individual to either take on their assigned tasks, or else to exchange with the challenger all their real and personal property holdings. If the target of the challenge refused to do either, then a popular jury would determine which man’s estate was the larger and should therefore bear the costs of the assignment.
The assembly would honour the “first to bring his ship [to Piraeus] with a crown of 500 drachmas and the second with a crown of 300 and the third with a crown of 200”, adding that “the herald of the Council is to announce the crowns at the … Thargelia [festival] . . . in order that the competitive zeal . . . of [the winner] towards the demos may be evident”. The daily wage for a skilled worker at the time was about one drachma, so these were substantial rewards, even though they represented a tiny fraction of the total cost of an assignment.
Lest there be any doubt about the elevated purpose served by these incentives, the decree spelled out the expected benefits of the Adriatic naval base: “the demos may for all future time have its own commerce and transport in grain” as well as protection from Etruscan pirates.
And for those unmoved by honours and rewards, there was a warning: “But if anyone to whom each of these things has been commanded does not do them in accordance with this decree, whether he be a magistrate or a private individual, the man that does not do so is to be fined 10,000 dr[achma]s”, with the proceeds going to honour Athena.
Aristotle, who died three years after the Adriatic mission began, had written “Legislators make the citizens good by inculcating habits in them…It is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.” The Athenian assembly had evidently taken this message to heart and adopted a system of incentives and constraints designed to cultivate civic virtue, not to compensate for its absence.
-Payments were prizes not bribes, designed to honour not manipulate their targets;
-The assembly made clear that the incentives advanced an elevated public purpose, not the private gain of any particular actor; and
-A citizen’s right to challenge his assignment made the process inclusive and mitigated any unfairness that might arise in the application of the incentives.
Now imagine that the Athenians had travelled to Haifa in a time machine and had been asked to help design the day care centres’ policy for dealing with late parents. They would not have been impressed by the sign that the day care centres had posted on their doors: “Since some parents have been coming late we (with the approval of the Authority for Private Day Care Centers in Israel) have decided to impose a fine on parents who come late to pick up their children. As of next Sunday a fine of NIS 10 [about $3 at the time, in Israeli new shekels] will be charged every time a child is collected after 16.10.”
Athenians: “Come on, Haifa! You can do better than that. How about: ‘The Council of Parents wishes to thank you for arriving on time to pick up your children, since this reduces the anxiety that the children sometimes feel and allows our staff to leave in a timely manner to be with their own families. We will recognize all parents who have a perfect record unblemished by lateness with an award of NIS 500, to be given at our annual parents and staff holiday party, with an option to contribute your award to the Teacher of the Year celebration.’”
“But don’t stop there: ‘Those who arrive more than ten minutes late, however, will pay a fine of NIS 1,000, with the payment of the fine publicly transmitted also at the holiday party. In the unlikely event that the occasion for such a fine arises, the payment will also support the Teacher of the Year celebration.’”
Would this Athenian version of the experiment have reversed the crowding out?
It might have – and we can do better than speculate.
The tax on plastic grocery bags enacted in Ireland in 2002 resembles the fine for lateness at the Haifa day care centres: it slightly raised the cost of an action that the incentive sought to deter (Rosenthal 2008). But its effect could not have been more different: in just two weeks following its introduction, the use of the plastic bags dropped by 94%. The tax may have enhanced rather than diminished ethical motives – for many, carrying a plastic grocery bag home appeared to have joined wearing a fur coat in the closet of antisocial practices.
What is the take-home lesson from the Ireland-Haifa contrast? Unlike the Haifa fine, the Irish plastic bag tax was introduced with a clear moral purpose. It was preceded by extended public deliberation and a substantial publicity campaign dramatising discarded bags as a blight on the environment. In Haifa, the fine seems to have said, “Lateness is okay as long as you pay for it,” while in Ireland the message was “Don’t trash the Emerald Isle!”
Jeremy Bentham, in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), advanced the idea that punishments should be “moral lessons”. The plastic bag tax was a moral lesson; the lateness fine was not. The same logic applies of course to positive incentives like subsidies and pay for performance, which unless framed as the Athenians did, may seem more like bribes than prizes.
Bentham and the Athenians understood that the ways that material interests and moral sentiments affect our behaviour are not necessarily additive – appeals to self-interest and to our better nature can be either complements (crowding in) or substitutes (crowding out).

And the British Rescued Buddhist Prayer Wheel in Himachal

One thing the British learnt from the Mutiny of 1857 was not to grease their Indian troops’ cartridges with lard and beef tallow. A little thing like that nearly cost them Empire. Although they regularly set Hindus and Muslims against each other, by themselves they were careful not to ruffle religious feathers on any side, not even of the most peaceable Buddhists in the Himalayas.
Back in 1914, when Simla was enjoying its first full year of electric power from the newly opened powerhouse at Chaba, a small problem arose. The powerhouse had been built on the left bank of the mighty Sutlej but it drew power from the waters of a stream named Nauti that had barely enough water in the summer months for the turbines at Chaba.
For years, villages beside this stream and its tributaries had used waterwheels to turn their corn and rice mills, and one of the villages—“a tiny Ladakhi village behind Simla,” said a report dated October 24, 1914—used its stream to turn a large prayer wheel.
“The Ladakhis belong to the Lamaistic, or Tibetan branch of Buddhists, a unique feature of whose worship is the use of the prayer wheel,” explained the syndicated report published in Stawell News and Pleasant Creek Chronicle, besides many other foreign papers. The wheel spun all day, and inside it hundreds of tumbling mantras sent up prayers to earn merit for the village.
Eager to run the Chaba hydel plant at full load in summer, the government decided that “the flow of a number of little streams which are driven on for water to drive the rice and prayer wheels of several small villages will be, for a part of the year, at least, entirely cut off.”
The Ladakhi village’s prayer wheel was going to stall. But then came another government order. “Where the owners of waterwheels, whose power will be interfered with by the Simla project, do not elect to accept a money compensation for their loss, a motor shall be installed for them and power furnished free of charge.” Free motor and free power.
Thanks to the government’s generosity, the Ladakhi village probably had the distinction of being the first in the world to run a prayer wheel with electric power. The reporter joked: “The wheel in question in sending up the first electrically driven prayers…will accomplish a feat that will make the latest wonders of the wireless pale into insignificance by comparison.”

Not Obama, but Women are Reshaping the US Economy

In India, they say that a woman can create a house with a needle and also destroy a house with a needle, and the same hold good for the nations and the countries. Women are the real creators of the wealth of a nation, and rightly so. It is undeniable that the women are not just half the population; we are half the economy. We are economic powerhouses. At least that’s what the numbers show. In the United States, 74 million women work outside the home. That’s six-in-ten women.
Since 1979, because of women’s added hours of work, our economy grew by 11 percent more than it would have otherwise. This is equivalent to $1.7 trillion, equal to what we spend in a year on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid combined.1

Women’s talents add to our nation’s productivity. And, their earnings boost family incomes.
Across the world, when women have access to education and jobs, we can see the positive effect on the economy. But, too often that power remains untapped. Economists estimate that the gender gap in employment leads to losses in GDP of 20 percent in Greece, Italy, and Japan to nearly 35 percent in the Gulf States and Iran. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 865 million women who have the potential to contribute more to their economies. Most live in emerging or developing economies.
Here in the United States, we have solid evidence that women contributing their talents to American business and their family’s income has been good for our economy. This difference in how women spend their days changes everything. Women are not only their family’s caregiver, they are their family’s breadwinner.2

The American Wife has become the American Worker. Only one in five children lives in a family with a full-time, stay-at-home caregiver. Two out of every three mothers earn so much that she’s either the primary breadwinner or a co-breadwinner for her family. This is even though women earn only 79 on the male dollar—and women of color have an even larger pay gap.
We can all picture the “Leave it to Beaver” family. June’s at home caring for the Beav while Ward’s at work. Actually, can we? How many of you have even seen that show? How many see your family in that fictionalized portrait? Yep, that family’s experience is seriously outdated. Yet our workplace policies still presume that’s what a family looks like. They assume we all have a magical silent partner at home taking care of all of life while we’re at work. But that’s fantasy.
Caregiving—whether for a child or an aging parent—remains time-consuming and is increasingly expensive. To reconcile this, we need to rethink our nation’s basic labor standards and social protections. The United States stands with only Papua New Guinea in not having paid leave for mothers. And, I hear that Papua New Guinea is about to fix this!
California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and—soon—New York have universal, statewide paid family leave programs. In those states, a worker has the right to stay home—with pay—when they have a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member. Or when the worker herself is ill. On top of this, nearly three dozen places—five states, one county, 26 cities, and the District of Columbia (which, of course, is not a state)—have put in place the right for workers to earn paid sick days. That’s progress, but only for the lucky few who live in the right place.
Over 75 years ago, the first woman to lead a federal agency—Frances Perkins—helped craft into law two pieces of legislation that continue to define the rules that govern the boundaries between work and life. The Social Security Act gives us a set of insurance programs for when we cannot work, because we are a senior citizen, are too disabled to work, or when we’ve lost a job through no fault of our own. But we don’t have the same right to income support when we cannot work because we need to care for a family member for a few weeks months. And, too often, those that have it earn the most. That’s not fair. To improve our economy, that needs to be fixed.
Every worker needs access to paid family and medical leave, including men. While women continue to do more care, men are increasingly stepping up and they’re realizing that it’s hard. In some surveys, men report more work-life conflict that women do.
The truth is, without the added hours of women, most families would have seen their incomes fall in recent decades. Women’s earnings have boosted family incomes, while also improving our overall economy through improving productivity. That’s why today’s workers also need predictable schedules and the right to talk to their boss about their schedule without fear of retaliation.

3
Putting sane rules on hours was another idea Mrs. Perkins championed. The Fair Labor Standards Act eradicated child labor and established the minimum wage and 8-hour workday. Recently, the Obama administration updated the overtime rules to cover an additional 4 million people.
This is a much-needed step forward. However, without a silent partner at home, chaotic or unpredictable schedules can wreak havoc on family life. And, it can mean that for an employee to be their most productive, they may need a little flexibility. With fewer than one in ten private sector employees having a union to help them negotiate schedules, most of us are on our own.
New rules that update our labor standards could fix this. Vermont and San Francisco are doing just that. They followed the lead of the United Kingdom and New Zealand, offering workers the right to request flexibility. And, San Francisco also added rules on predictability.
As many states and localities have recognized, the American Wife is the American Worker. That’s good for families and the economy.
We need new federal rules.
We can fix this.
The United States is and remains one of the richest nations the world has ever seen.
So, let’s do it.

Saturday Special: The Imperatives of Maturity

“Maturity is not when we start speaking big things; it is when we start understanding small things.”
“I used to walk into a room full of people and wonder if they liked me… now I look around and wonder if I like them.”
“Maturity comes when you stop making excuses, and start making changes.”
“Maturity is the capacity to endure uncertainty.”
“Maturity begins when we are content to feel we’re right about something, without feeling the necessity to prove someone else is wrong.”
So, then what are the signs of maturity? Do you need to work to acquire maturity or does it come naturally as you grow up? People shouting at and over each other on news channels rather than engaging in intelligent discussions, horrific incidents of road rage, and increased instances of public shaming indicate a dangerous dive in maturity levels. When politics and blame games take over and we close our eyes to real problems, that’s indeed a sign of an immature nation.
While the world respects us for spiritual quotient, are we endangering our own legacy by setting aside maturity and far-sightedness in favour of puerility and short-term benefits? Rather than take responsibility for our actions, we are happier pulling others down and bent upon proving our own worth and correctness.
Each of us has a responsibility to attain maturity and self-awareness as we grow up. Some mature early in life; others never mature, even as they age. Yes, maturity is not a natural consequence of growing up. Age cannot guarantee maturity. What can ensure that you achieve a mature outlook to life is — a willingness to learn from your experiences, having the flexibility to change and adapt, and the large-heartedness to respect the differences and viewpoints of others.
Maturity can be learned rather than acquired. It is a discipline rather than a trait. It is a sign of intelligence when you learn to respond to your environment in a mature and responsible manner.
A mature person knows when to stop arguing. She understands that trying to win arguments with those you love is self-defeating. She respects others’ points of view but goes by her own considered ones. She knows that the journey is to be enjoyed and lived, while the destination is just another place to reach, rest awhile and then move on. She does not indulge in comparisons and is at peace with herself.
A mature person will take responsibility for his own actions rather than blame others. He will take a far-sighted view of things and act in a considered, rather than a spontaneous manner. He understands that he is not the centre of the Universe, and most people do not act to hurt, upset or take revenge on him; they have their own considerations and triggers. He is non-judegemental and learns to accept people as they are and brings change only within himself.
I read a beautiful line – “Emotional maturity means being centered in yourself instead of being self-centered.” The author Katies Hoban, a data scientist, speaks of three Rs – Responsibility, Responsiveness, and Resilience. So, drawing from the power and resources within yourself, maturity is the art of being responsible for your actions, being sensitive and considerate towards others and having the ability to change and adapt to circumstances.
An emotionally mature person is always adding value to himself and those around. Learning and developmental activities form a key part of his daily activities and goals. He is able to understand and manage his own emotions. He maintains a calm exterior and understands that vision, planning and empathy are critical tools of a life well lived. You are emotionally mature when you take the responsibility for your own happiness; when you plan your own goals and define your own success, when you develop great coping skills, and adopt a tolerant, empathic view of others. Without being delusional you are optimistic in a realistic manner and take charge of your own life!

Biotechnology Provides A Viable Solution to Major Problems

Many of the problems facing humanity are the same recurring challenges that man has tackled for centuries. Hunger, disease, the need for raw materials, and pollution have limited humanity since prehistoric times. However, throughout history,the development of new technologies has enabled dramatic improvements in our quality of life.
Modern molecular biotechnology, or the application of our knowledge of the genome to engineer organisms with beneficial traits, enables new solutions to today’s challenges. Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which adds the tools of molecular biotechnology to humanity’s toolbox, promises similar improvements in wellbeing as those that were delivered by previous technological innovations. Utilizing every available technology is crucial as we strive as a species to support higher populations with fewer resources.
But public fear of biotechnology, in spite of the tremendous advances it has already provided, may prevent these innovations from having the impact they promise. The biotechnology industry must substantially increase its efforts to educate and engage the public to ensure that biotechnology truly lives up to its potential.
1. Feeding the next billion
Industrial farming and food production have prompted dramatic shifts in the world economy, and fewer than 5% of developed countries’ populations now work in agriculture. But the World Bank predicts that we will need to produce 50% more food by 2020, while climate change may reduce productivity by 25%.
Simply dedicating more land to agriculture is one potential solution, but may result in food production far from the areas of greatest need. Increases in productivity per acre, drought resistant crops, and decreases  the need for chemical fertilizers would all go far to sustainably achieving the food production the world will need, reducing pressure to transform lush forests into agricultural land.
Biotechnology companies such as Indigo Agriculture are employing microbes which can make crops more productive and tolerant of environmental stress, helping to feed the next billion people. In addition, drought resistant crops are being developed by Pioneer, Syngenta, and Monsanto. Foods can also deliver enhanced nutrition, such as Golden Rice with additional vitamin A from the International Rice Research Institute.
2. Tackling disease
Some of the first applications of genetic engineering were in the pharmaceutical industry, helping to treat medical conditions and diseases. Insulin, synthesized with biotechnology, avoided the use of insulin isolated from pigs, to which some patients are allergic. Other treatments created by biotechnology include interferon therapy to trigger one’s immune system, human growth hormone, and the hepatitis B vaccine.
Yet, in spite of this tremendous progress in modern medicine, today we face scary prospects, including the spread of the Zika virus and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Biotechnology offers some of the most promising and targeted ways to find solutions to these threats. For example, the British company Oxitec, a subsidiary of Intrexon Corporation, offers a technology to control the spread of a single species of insect, Aedes aegypti, the primary vector for dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus outbreaks around the world. And many researchers are investigating the use of CRISPR/Cas gene-editing technology as a new method of controlling antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.
3. Cleaning up pollution
Glacial records have shown us that, as long as 2,500 years ago, roman-era metal production was a source of global pollution. The streets of London and other cities were polluted by coal and wood fires, as well as by the horses used as transportation. Today, our pollution challenges appear more subtle, but surely technologies will also turn them into anachronisms.
One company, PIARCS, PBC has a new biotechnology to resolve phosphorous in wastewater treatment plants, our own company Universal Bio Mining is developing enzymes capable of degrading chemical residue of petroleum production in the oil sands industry, and Carbios of France is developing a technique to recycle the ubiquitous PET plastic used in our disposable packaging.
4. Harnessing scarce natural resources
The availability of natural resources has always been a constraint and a source of international tension. As easy to reach and process metal deposits are depleted, the mining industry must double the amount of earth it removes from the ground every eight years. In another example, clean fresh water is expected to become one of the greatest sources of international conflict during the 21st century, as people battle over the control of rivers and underground water sources.
Here, again, biotechnology offers new tools to soften or resolve these challenges. Our company, Universal Bio Mining, is developing new processes to extract copper and gold from ores that are currently uneconomic, and start-up companies such as CustoMem from Imperial College of London have created water filters utilizing proteins to filter polluted waters.
The future of biotech
Advances in technology have dramatically increased the rates at which these new biotechnologies can be developed, while at the same time, reducing the cost of development. Gene sequencing and synthesis technologies have dropped precipitously in price, allowing innovators to develop their inventions much faster, and at a lower cost.
However, challenges remain. Regulatory roadblocks make it difficult for small biotech innovators to set up laboratories, and the path to regulatory approval for some technologies remains unclear, discouraging investment.
But most importantly, public fear of these new tools often prevents them from turning into commercial products. For example, the Golden Rice product, announced in 2000 to reduce Vitamin A deficiency that kills 600,000 children per year, has yet to be grown commercially.
The challenges facing humanity remain significant and society simply cannot let these potential solutions be ignored.
The biotechnology industry must continue to educate the public, regulators, and other industries about the potential of the sector. This means actively participating in the development of regulatory processes for these evolving technologies, inviting conversations with all stakeholders, and ensuring the public understands both the technology and the benefits that it delivers.
With time, the public will ask, “Why hasn’t biotechnology solved this problem yet?”

Man, Machine and Thought Process

The other day I came face to face with the sum of all fears. Literally. I was trying to total up an itemized grocery bill and every time I did it, I came up with a different answer. It wasn’t a bill for a large amount, nor were there many items on it. But for the life of me I just couldn’t seem to get right a sum involving simple arithmetic.
Eventually, of course, I did what I should have done to begin with: used a calculator and got the answer. More and more we depend on machines of various sorts to figure things out for us. And the more we rely on them to do these mental chores for us, the less able are we to do them for ourselves.
The smartphone in your hand enables you to record a video, edit it, and send it around the world. With your phone, you can navigate in cities, buy a car, track your vital signs and accomplish thousands of other tasks. And so?
Each of those activities used to demand learning specific skills and acquiring the necessary resources to do them. Making a film? First, get a movie camera and the supporting technologies (film, lights, editing equipment). Second, learn how to use them and hire a crew. Third, shoot the movie. Fourth, develop and edit the film. Fifth, make copies and distribute them.
Now all of those tasks are solved by technology. We need no longer learn the intricate details when the smartphone programmers have taken care of so much. But filmmakers are now freer to focus on their craft, and it is easier than ever to become a filmmaker. Historically, technology has made us individually dumber and individually smarter – and collectively smarter. Technology has made us able to do more while understanding less about what we are doing, and has increased our dependence on others.
These are not recent trends, but part of the history of technology since the first humans began to farm. In recent decades, three major changes have accelerated the process, starting with the increasing pace of humans specializing in particular skills. In addition, we outsource more skills to technological tools, like a movie-making app on a smartphone, that relieve us of the challenge of learning large amounts of technical knowledge. And many more people have access to technology than in the past, allowing them to use these tools much more readily.
Specialized knowledge
Specialization enables us to become very good at some activities, but that investment in learning – for example, how to be an ER nurse or computer coder – comes at the expense of other skills like how to grow your own food or build your own shelter.
As Adam Smith noted in his “Wealth of Nations” specialization enables people to become more efficient and productive at one set of tasks, but with a trade-off of increased dependence on others for additional needs. In theory, everyone benefits.
Specialization has moral and pragmatic consequences. Skilled workers are more likely to be employed and earn more than their unskilled counterparts. One reason the United States won World War II was that draft boards kept some trained workers, engineers and scientists working on the home front instead of sending them to fight. A skilled machine tool operator or oil rig roustabout contributed more to winning the war by staying at home and sticking to a specialized role than by heading to the front with a rifle. It also meant other men (and some women) donned uniforms and had a much greater chance of dying.
Making machines for the rest of us
Incorporating human skills into a machine – called “blackboxing” because it makes the operations invisible to the user – allows more people to, for example, take a blood pressure measurement without investing the time, resources and effort into learning the skills previously needed to use a blood pressure cuff. Putting the expertise in the machine lowers the barriers to entry for doing something because the person does not need to know as much. For example, contrast learning to drive a car with a manual versus an automatic transmission.
Mass production of blackboxed technologies enables their widespread use. Smartphones and automated blood pressure monitors would be far less effective if only thousands instead of tens of millions of people could use them. Less happily, producing tens of millions of automatic rifles like AK-47s means individuals can kill far more people far more easily compared with more primitive weapons like knives.
More practically, we depend on others to do what we cannot do at all or as well. City dwellers in particular depend on vast, mostly invisible structures to provide their power, remove their waste and ensure food and tens of thousands of other items are available.
Overreliance on technology is dangerous
A major downside of increased dependence on technologies is the increased consequences if those technologies break or disappear. Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge offers a delightful (and frightening) exploration of how survivors of a humanity-devastating apocalypse could salvage and maintain 21st-century technologies.
Just one example of many is that the U.S. Naval Academy just resumed training the officers to navigate by using sextants. Historically the only way to determine a ship’s location at sea, this technique is being taught again both as a backup in case cyberattackers interfere with GPS signals and to give navigators a better feel of what their computers are doing.
How do people survive and prosper in this world of increasing dependence and change? It’s impossible to be truly self-reliant, but it is possible to learn more about the technologies we use, to learn basic skills of repairing and fixing them (hint: always check the connections and read the manual) and to find people who know more about particular topics. In this way, the Internet’s vast wealth of information can not only increase our dependence but also decrease it. Thinking about what happens if something goes wrong can be a useful exercise in planning or a descent into obsessive worrying.
Individually, we depend more on our technologies than ever before – but we can do more than ever before. Collectively, technology has made us smarter, more capable and more productive. What technology has not done is make us wiser.
Barring a handful of mathematical wizards – who without benefit of pencil and paper, let alone electronic calculators, can tot up all the numbers the finance minister used in his Budget speech, and tell you without hesitation what the date was on the last Tuesday of 1937 – many if not most of us have become incapable of doing simple additions and subtractions in our heads with any degree of certainty.
Thanks to a variety of devices that do all these things for us, we’ve largely lost the facility of doing mental math, which not so very long ago every Class Five school kid was proficient at. Thanks to mobile phones which store all our contact numbers for us and enable us to access them at the touch of a push button, we no longer have to memorise long lists of dial-up numbers of pre-cellular technology days.
So far so good. Or should that be so far so bad? For as we lose through lack of practice our numeric abilities, we find ourselves increasingly at the mercy of microchips, if microchips can be presumed to be programmed with an algorithm called mercy.
What if it’s all part of a sinister conspiracy whereby digital technology, devised to serve us, usurps our capacity to work out everyday things for ourselves and we end up totally enslaved by it?
A scary sci-fi scenario. And one which could have its roots in a long-ago Garden where a seductive serpent offered Eve an Apple with a capital ‘A’.
How can you teach a machine to think?
A Google search for Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis star, yields some 28,900,000 hits. International football star Lionel Messi even has as many as 61,300,000 entries. But there’s one name that beats both of them hands down: searching for AlphaGo, the computer that defeated a master player of the strategy game Go in March of this year, returns no fewer than 313,000,000 hits. AlphaGo dominated the headlines this spring: machine triumphs over man. For some, AlphaGo’s victory was the ultimate horror scenario, while others saw it as the breakthrough of artificial intelligence.
The master players
Joachim Buhmann, Professor for Computer Science and Head of the Institute for Machine Learning at ETH Zurich, offers a more sober assessment of the situation: “The Go player’s algorithm has, of course, set a milestone in machine learning, but it’s a milestone in a very limited, artificial field,” he says. Since the early days of computer science as a scientific discipline, one of the challenges against which it has been relatively easy to measure progress has been strategy games. It started with simple games such as Nine Men’s Morris and Draughts. In 1997, IBM’s computer Deep Blue beat the reigning chess world champion Garry Kasparov. Soon thereafter, programmers set their sights on the considerably more complex game Go as the next potential milestone.
What is interesting, however, is not the fact that AlphaGo has now claimed victory, but rather how it did so: unlike Deep Blue, it didn’t rely on sheer computing speed, but rather on enormous computing power “combined with a kind of clever learning,” explains Buhmann. But he qualifies this by adding: “Successfully solving such game problems isn’t the major breakthrough, because real intelligence is characterised by making a decision in the face of great uncertainty. And the game setting drastically reduces uncertainty.” His research colleague holds a similar view: Thomas Hofmann is Co-Director of the new Center for Learning Systems, a joint endeavour between ETH and the Max Planck Society. In his words, “We want to build machines that succeed in the real world. Self-driving cars, for instance, are confronted with far more complex and consequential decisions.”
Training in the sea of data
Nevertheless, the approach taken by the creators of AlphaGo to lead their computer to the championship is typical for many other areas of machine learning, as well. AlphaGo’s designers first fed the machine with 150,000 matches that had been battled out by good players, and used an artificial neural network to identify typical patterns in these matches. In particular, the computer learned to predict which move a human player would make in a given position. The designers then optimised the neural network by repeatedly having it play against previous versions of its own games. In this way, through small but constant adjustments, the network gradually improved its chances of winning. “There are two ingredients that enable this type of learning,” explains Hofmann. “You need a lot of data as learning material,” he says, “and sufficient computing speed.” Both are available today in many areas.
This dramatically changed the approach of developers in the field of artificial intelligence. Buhmann explains this based on the example of image recognition: previously, image experts had to tell the computer in detail which features it should use to categorise an image as a face, for example. “This meant that we had to rely on the knowledge of experts, and also that we had to describe vast amounts of rules in code,” he recalls. Today, it is sufficient to write a meta-programme that merely defines the basic principles of learning. The computer then learns by itself to tell, based on numerous sample images, which features depict a face. Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, etc., there is no shortage of learning material: “Today we can easily use millions of pictures or more as practice material,” says Buhmann.
Computers as doctors
He specializes in image recognition in the medical field. As he explains, this field is precisely where the advantage of machine learning is clearly evident: “We used to try to ask doctors about their specialist knowledge and then implement it in detailed rules,” he recalls, “but that endeavour ended in a terrific failure, because even good doctors often cannot provide clear explanations for their actions.” Today, computer programs independently trawl through large volumes of image data for statistically relevant patterns. One specific area in which Buhmann and his colleagues use this type of method is cancer research, but the approach is also useful in studying neurological diseases such as schizophrenia, or neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease.
They have, for instance, developed a program that helps pathologists to more accurately assess the likely development of a certain form of kidney cancer. The process involves obtaining patient biopsies and preparing histological sections, using certain dyes to make relevant features visible. The sections are digitised and analysed using machine image analysis methods in order, for example, to count the cancer cells that are in the process of dividing and that were made visible by the staining. The computer then combines such counts with additional data to develop prognoses for specific patient groups. In another project, computers were used to analyse magnetic resonance images of the brains of schizophrenia patients. The image analysis yielded three groups of patients with significantly different activity patterns in the brain. “We learned that there are different kinds of schizophrenia,” explains Buhmann, adding: “Now it’s up to pharmacists and doctors to find the right treatment for each patient type.” It is quite possible that automated analyses of brain images will help with this, too.
Language and meaning
Image recognition is to Buhmann what language is to his research colleague Hofmann. “Speech recognition as a branch of artificial intelligence is in particular demand when it comes to human-machine interaction,” explains Hofmann. He hopes that he will one day no longer have to tediously enter his desired destination via a keyboard to let a self-driving car know where he wants to go, but can instead spontaneously give it oral instructions. Hofmann is convinced that it won’t be long now until this happens: “Today, we can approach the problem of getting machines to understand text in a completely different way from how we could before.”
Here, too, big data supplies the material the machines use to pracise understanding texts. The web is a vast treasure trove of language, a gigantic training ground that helps machines filter out statistical regularities that show them relationships between words. “And it does a much better job of it than we could ever have done with abstract linguistic or phonetic rules,” says Hofmann. This kind of method can also be used to optimise translation programs or search engines. Hofmann and his team are developing a program that uses all Wikipedia entries (there are more than 5 million English-language articles) as a basis for learning to link texts and words in a way that makes sense. The links and cross references to other articles, which Wikipedia authors currently still create manually, will in future be added by a computer – faster and more comprehensively than any author would be able to manage. “It starts with the fundamental meanings of words. But then our goal is to get our programmes to understand the meaning of complete sentences and, ultimately, entire discourses,” says Hofmann.
On an equal footing with machines
Pie in the sky? Only partly. Translation programmes have already made tremendous progress in recent years. Search engines are constantly improving and computer programmes are now authoring sport updates. Hofmann himself was involved in founding a company called Recommind in the US. Their programmes analyse and sort texts with a view to their legally relevant content. “We automate document review, which used to take lawyers endless hours,” he explains. Today this company employs 300 staff worldwide and is the market leader in its field.
Recommind is just one example of how new technologies will change even jobs in highly qualified professions. Hofmann is convinced that there are only a few occupations that will not feel the impact of this technological change. “To date, machines have taken over repetitive, mechanical jobs. In future, they will also take intelligent decisions,” he says. Buhmann, too, is confident, claiming that “the new intelligent technologies will in future supplement or even replace activities performed by well-trained specialists.” For instance, the new possibilities in image analysis will no doubt massively change the work of pathologists. As Buhmann points out: “We will need far fewer pathologists in future – but that means doctors could spend more time on psychological care for the sick.” His colleague Hofmann adds: “In terms of technology, everything is possible. It’s a question of society’s willingness to find creative solutions for dealing with this technological change.”

Technology Enhances Medicare

Mankind is within reach of collecting unprecedented amounts of data about patient behaviour and physiology. The question is do we know enough about human biology to use this data to help patients.The advent of smartphones — the most rapidly adopted technological innovation in the history of mankind — has ushered in a new era of data collection and human monitoring.
Pfizer and IBM announced that they will team up to collect data from wearables and improve diagnosis and treatment of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In the same week, there were two other announcements: One from a data science competition hosted by Kaggle, and one from Brown University, of machine-learning algorithms performing at par with human beings in detecting disease based on MRI and ultrasound scans. This is especially significant since there is an acute shortage of high-quality radiologists in most countries, and the analysis of medical scans (any medical data, for that matter), is an extremely laborious and time-consuming job.
The question that these announcements pose, for the world in general and the medical profession in particular, is whether we are at the brink of a technological revolution in the field of medical research and practice, which might literally sweep doctors and other medical professionals off their feet.
The clairvoyant writings of Lewis Thomas, a renowned biologist, linguist and polymath, in the 1960s and ’70s, offer a rich history of the medical profession and some reference points to judge where we are today. Thomas described how the medical profession stepped out of its infancy only in the 1930s, before which medical interventions were largely palliative, since there were few proven ways of curing disease. It was only with clinical practices introduced by the steely Dr William Osler in 1937, of simply observing disease progression instead of intervening, that vast quantities of invaluable data started accumulating, and biological research on causes and, consequently, cures of diseases began, which then led to the discovery of vaccines, antibiotics and surgical interventions.
Today, we stand at the brink of another watershed moment. The advent of smartphones — the most rapidly adopted technological innovation in the history of mankind — has ushered in a new era of data collection and human monitoring, which makes Osler’s methods look medieval. With novel wearable or implanted sensors that connect to a smartphone or other gateway device, researchers and healthcare companies have access to vast amounts of data related to the activities and physiological parameters of billions of healthy and sick subjects. Some biosensors and accompanying display technologies make it possible for users not only to monitor their physiological parameters such as ECG and EEG in real-time, but also to alter their biological signals or rhythms by way of biofeedback and neurofeedback. In fact, Thomas happened to witness the birth of these revolutionary technologies towards the end of his life and wrote in bewilderment about the implications of these technologies. He, however, added this cautionary note: “One ought to feel, I know, elated with the prospect of taking personal charge… My trouble, to be quite candid, is a lack of confidence in myself. If I were informed tomorrow that I was in direct communication with my liver, and could now take over, I would become deeply depressed. I’d sooner be told, 40,000 feet above Denver, that the 747 jet in which I had a coach seat was now mine to operate as I pleased.”پ
Thomas’s question is almost as relevant today, as it was in the 1980s. Yes, we are now within technological reach of collecting unprecedented amounts of data about patient behaviour and physiology. But do we really know what to do with it? Do we understand enough about human biology to use this data to provide real value to patients who most desperately need it? Or will this path be lit by the patterns that emerge from the data itself?
Thomas’s fears are shared by Siddhartha Mukherjee, a man he inspired four decades later to study and write about the mysteries of medicine. Mukherjee’s insightful book, The Laws of Medicine, published in 2015, ends with the ominous line, “پMalcolm Gladwell wrote that the [political] revolution will not be tweeted. Well, the medical revolution will not be algorithmised.”پHowever, the first of the three laws described by Mukherjee highlights the value of prior information about a patient’s habits and history and the importance of Bayesian analysis of data in arriving at the correct diagnosis. The second law discusses the importance of detailed studies of the data corresponding to clinical outliers in discovering new facts about the human body. Finally, the third law talks about the need for eliminating human biases in scientific studies. In many ways, these laws do not negate the value of algorithms at all. Instead, they underscore the importance of designing smart algorithms (as opposed to dumb aggregational ones) that ask the right questions, and take prior information and uncertainty into account.
A 2013 study at Oxford University calculated the risk of automation of different professions within the next 20 years. It predicts that there is only one to two per cent chance of a “health professional” or a “medical practitioner” being replaced by machines (as opposed to a 99 per cent risk of automation for a “telephone salesperson” or a 97.6 per cent risk for a “financial accounts manager”), putting the two in the top 20 safest professions among a total of 366, which is in line with the thinking of Thomas and Mukherjee. Yet, it also predicts that there is an 85 per cent chance of a “healthcare practice manager” and a “medical secretary” being automated in the same time period, which indicates the first step in what Eric Topol describes as the radical transformation of medicine in his recent book, The Patient Will See You Now. Topol, a renowned cardiologist and the current director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, writes about the ongoing transfer of power from doctors to patients and says he knew the world had changed when an ECG was emailed to him by a patient with the subject line, “Iپam in atrial fib, now what do I do?” What remains to be seen is how profound the impact will be on the determination of causes and cures for diseases, and the delivery of treatment.
The likes of Pfizer and IBM appear to have their money on Topol, while the medical community remains largely as sceptical as Thomas and Mukherjee. Ultimately, it might be innovative, hybrid combinations of technology and human expertise, sweetened by empathetic and personalised care, that provide maximum value to the patient.

How Saudi Arabia makes the world unsafe & Pakistanis Scapegoats

What has the recent spate of terror attacks in Bangladesh, Turkey and Iraq have in common? They are all inspired by Wahhabi sect of Islam. The bestial beheadings, the killings of infidels, the demand for a caliphate and the preachers and Madrassas that radicalise the youth are all under the influence of the Wahhabi teachings.
The Saudi kingdom is a twin arrangement between the king and the clerics. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was the founder of Wahhabism and even today his puritanical version of Islam is what is practised in Saudi Arabia. As a lonely preacher, who many tribes shunned he found favour with the then chieftain Ibn Saud who he told that he would help him to unite the tribes. He would be the moral authority behind the raids. Thus started the raiding and conversions of other Bedouin tribes into the puritanical version of Islam in the late 18th century.
Later, when the tribes were united and huge reserves of gas were found in the desert. Then, Saudi Arabia was able to finance the Wahhabi teachings in countries all over the middle east, including Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Brunei. They even helped to spread it parts of Africa.
The American author and journalist, Steven Coll, has written how this austere and censorious disciple of the 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, influenced Abd al-Wahhab, who despised “the decorous, arty, tobacco smoking, hashish imbibing, drum pounding Egyptian and Ottoman nobility who travelled across Arabia to pray at Mecca.”
Abd al-Wahhab’s view was that these were not Muslims; they were imposters and were heretic. Nor, indeed, did he find the behaviour of local Bedouin Arabs much better. He despised them for honouring saints and building monuments for them.
The strategy that Abd al-Wahhab followed — like that of ISIS today — was to bring the peoples whom they conquered into submission. They aimed to instil fear. Ibn Saud’s clan, seizing on Abd al-Wahhab’s doctrine, now could do what they always did, which was raiding neighbouring villages and robbing them of their possessions. Only now they were doing it under the banner of jihad. Ibn Saud and Abd al-Wahhab also reintroduced the idea of martyrdom in the name of jihad, as it granted those martyred immediate entry into paradise.
Their strategy — like that of ISIS today — was to bring the people whom they conquered into submission. The fear factor of beheading a non believer as they saw it was persuasive. In 1801, they attacked the Holy City of Karbala in Iraq. They massacred thousands of Shiites, including women and children. Many Shiite shrines were destroyed, including the shrine of Imam Hussein, the murdered grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
Osman Ibn Bishr Najdi, the historian of the first Saudi state, wrote that Ibn Saud committed a massacre in Karbala in 1801. He proudly documented that massacre saying, “we took Karbala and slaughtered and took its people (as slaves), then praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, and we do not apologise for that and say: ‘And to the unbelievers: the same treatment.’”
In 1803, Abdul Aziz then entered the Holy City of Mecca, which surrendered under the impact of terror and panic . Abd al-Wahhab’s followers destroyed historical monuments and all the tombs and shrines in their midst. By the end, they had razed centuries of Islamic architecture near the Grand Mosque.
Perhaps the worst event for Islam was the gas find in Arabia. It was this mix of billion dollars and Saudi mindset that resulted in preachers all over the world preaching Wahhabism to young people who thought it was a great mission in life in an otherwise dull existence.
After the Bangladesh attacks it came out that the terrorists were inspired by a preacher Zakir Naik who is banned in the UK and Canada but has a huge following in India. He says women should be covered with an all-enveloping burqa: only their face and wrists should be seen. This is Naik’s solution to sexual assault. According to him all religions started with Islam. He also projects jihad and actively converts people in the audience.
Saudi Arabia recently acknowledged Naik’s “services to Islam”, awarding him with the King Faisal International Prize and $2,00,000.
This prize to Naik should ring the alarm bells as to how deep Salafism under Wahhabism has spread its roots. Zakir Naik is not a preacher from South Punjab in Pakistan or an Afghan who grew up under the Taliban or even a Saudi citizen. He’s from Mumbai. Not only geography but his socioeconomic background is a surprise: he’s a qualified doctor. Yet, he is the world’s leading Salafi evangelist.
To think he inspired the terrorists in Bangladesh and his teachings are not too different from ISIS says a lot. In all this Saudi Arabia comes out as the world’s leading proponent of terror and the instigator of all the terror plots that kill thousands.
The Scapegoat
And for all this, starting from 9/11 onwards, Saudi finds an expedient scapegoat- the Pakistanis. The eleventh day of September 2001 seems a distant memory now. On that day, 19 hijackers unleashed mayhem in the skies over the United States of America. Fifteen of these 19 hijackers, it would later be discovered, were Saudi citizens. Yet the war that ensued, that cast its bloody fingers deep into the Middle East and South Asia, would not be a war against Saudis. It was instead against Afghans, Iraqis and, at least via remote control, Pakistanis.
Much of the world, at least those portions of the world that matter, that are listened to, that construct the narratives of conflict, did not seem to balk at this fact or its incongruity to the politics of blame and expiation that have dominated the world since the 9/11 attacks. Saudi Arabia remained best friends with the US, its oil industry lubricating the latter’s economy.
Last week, the scourge of terror that has seeped into every pore of the rest of the Muslim world made Saudi Arabia its target. Near the end of Ramazan, three bombings occurred in the Saudi cities of Jeddah, Qatif and Madina. Four security guards were killed and four others wounded in the Madina attack, which took place ominously close to the mosque of the Holy Prophet, one of Islam’s most sacred sites. The bombing in Qatif targeted a Shia mosque and the one in Jeddah took place near the US consulate.
In both the Qatif and Jeddah attack, the bombers were not able to execute the attack and succeeded in killing only themselves. The three bombings in three different parts of Saudi Arabia all took place within 24 hours. While there were no immediate claims of responsibility (as with attacks in Dhaka and Istanbul) the modus operandi of the attack aligned with the usual tactics of the militant Islamic State group.
Pakistanis are weak, their lives are cheap and they can provide at best a feeble response to the aspersions Saudi Arabia casts on them. In the days since the attack Saudi authorities have been busy rounding up suspects. According to a report published by Al Jazeera, 19 people had been arrested by July 9. Of these 19, 12 are Pakistani and the remainder are Saudi citizens. In addition, Saudi authorities claim that the Jeddah bomber was also a Pakistani named Abdullah Gulzar Khan, who had been working in the kingdom for the past 12 years. The suspect was reported to have worn a suicide belt before he blew himself up.
The inordinate scrutiny placed on Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia is likely to become an even larger problem. Even when criminal charges are not terrorism-based, the Saudi legal system is opaque, providing few explanations of charges or records of proceedings. Owing in part to their inferior status in the kingdom and the intractability of its legal system in general, over 2,000 Pakistanis already languish in Saudi jails with 10 or more executed every year. The 12 arrested last week will simply join their ranks, the truth of the allegations against them never properly explained, the details of trials and prosecutions never communicated to the consulates of a poor country like Pakistan.
There are good reasons for the Saudi effort to pin the blame on Pakistanis. For instance, it permits Saudi Arabia to deflect the truth that in past years its propagation of an orthodox version of Islam via countless religious schools around the world has contributed to the creation of the jihadi mindset, whose pupils increasingly if not always provide cannon fodder for suicide bombers who have struck targets across the world.
According to an article published last year in World Affairs Journal, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, (either officially or via private donors) has funded madressahs and religious centres that have then been used for recruitment by extremist groups. The article quotes US Vice President Joe Biden as estimating the Saudi contribution to jihadi groups as being at “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons”. Increasingly defensive about its own contribution to the very threat that is now at its doorstep, Saudi royals like King Salman have tried to deflect blame by saying that they cannot be held responsible if the money they gave for good causes is appropriated into the cause of extremism and ‘jihad’.
Blaming Pakistanis is probably another portion of this strategy of deflecting blame; of responding to the premise that the seeds they planted have grown into an invasive species that wants to throttle the gardener itself. Pakistanis are weak, their lives are cheap and they can provide at best a feeble response to the aspersions Saudi Arabia casts on them.
At a time when Saudi Arabia is investing in national unity, painting the foreign worker as a potential terrorist serves to justify the already despicable treatment allotted to them. Predictably, all other Muslim countries and even Pakistanis themselves quietly and submissively accept this role; those who speak out loud and clear about European and American excesses heaped on immigrant Muslims maintain pin-drop silence when it comes to Saudi mistreatment. The self-appointed guardians of Islam’s holy sites, it is assumed, must be holy and beyond reproach.
For Pakistanis, it is ironic that Saudi Arabia leads the ‘Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism’. Unlike even Western countries, whose excesses against alleged terror suspects, whose unauthorised bombings of this or that country have received attention and criticism in the global public sphere, Saudi Arabia retains its air of sanctity.
Given this, whether it is air strikes that kill civilians in Yemen, or the easy implication of Pakistani foreign workers as terrorists, there appears to be no one who can chide the kingdom or check its power. Pakistanis, reviled yesterday as foreign and poor or deficiently Muslim, can now be made scapegoats in the Saudi war on terror, accused and indicted, not necessarily for their guilt but simply because it is so very easy to blame them, punish them, persecute them

EU Suffers A Dangerous Case of Nostalgia

The European Union has a dangerous case of nostalgia. Not only is a yearning for the “good old days” – before the EU supposedly impinged on national sovereignty – fueling the rise of nationalist political parties; European leaders continue to try to apply yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems.
Everyone was supposed to benefit from European integration. Whenever a new country joined, it received financial aid, while existing members gained access to a new market. The advantages, it was expected, would be apparent not just from aggregate data, but also from individual citizens’ own experience.
But reality has been less clear-cut. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the EU’s weaker economies faced skyrocketing unemployment, especially among young people, while its stronger economies felt pressure to “show solidarity” by bailing out countries in distress. When the stronger economies provided those bailouts, they included demands for austerity that impeded the recipients’ economic recovery. Few were satisfied, and many blamed European integration.
In this context, political parties and movements criticizing or opposing the EU have gained considerable traction, particularly in Western Europe. While these movements are nothing new, support for them has grown at alarming rates during the crisis-induced turmoil. Indeed, with every failed policy to aid economic recovery, Europeans have felt increasingly disenchanted, fueling populist sentiment and demands for a return to national sovereignty.
The political leaders channeling these demands do not just want to reassert national control in all areas; they are also spreading a message of indifference to ‒ and even outright rejection of ‒ foreigners, reflected in their response to Europe’s influx of refugees. According to them, each country should defend its own by any means, even if the rule of law is tested along the way.
But, while the economic pain that many Europeans feel is certainly real, the nationalists’ diagnosis of its source is false. The reality is that the EU can be criticized for the way it handled the crisis. But it cannot be blamed for the global economic imbalances that have fueled economic strife since 2008. Those imbalances reflect a much broader phenomenon: globalization.
This does not mean that globalization is a bad thing. Opening up societies and economies to the world obviously entails significant uncertainty; but it also provides abundant opportunities.
Not long ago, Europe was the world leader in openness. In fact, the European project is, at its core, a mirror of the opening that is an inextricable consequence of living in today’s globalized world.
In 2004, when the EU formally welcomed eight formerly communist countries as member states, European openness reached its pinnacle. A new age seemed to be dawning in Europe, in which the rule of law, democracy, and individual rights were unassailable. Yet, just as West European countries have begun to resist openness, so have their Central and East European counterparts. Indeed, in some countries – particularly Poland and Hungary – nationalism and anti-EU sentiment have surged. Unfortunately, this has led to a perceptible erosion of the rule of law.
Poland is the largest recipient of European funds and the only EU country that avoided recession during the crisis; indeed, it has experienced 23 years of uninterrupted growth. Moreover, the Polish public has been broadly supportive of the EU since becoming members. Even the latest Eurobarometer indicates that 55% of Poles view the EU positively.
Yet Poland’s government, led by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, is aiming to change that, by portraying European policies as a threat to Polish national identity. Instead of discussing how to adapt specific policies to Poland’s national interests or amplify the country’s voice at the European level, PiS writes off all European measures and decisions as a direct challenge to what makes Poland Poland.
These claims, to some extent, echo those of the Hungarian government, led by the right-wing Fidesz party. The constitutional reforms implemented in 2013, among other things, expanded the executive’s authority and created a new state council, stacked with Fidesz members, to regulate the media.
Some say that if Hungary sought admission to the EU today, it would be refused entry. As for Poland, the European Commission has launched an unprecedented inquiry in response to recent legislation that, under the pretense of “protecting national sovereignty,” concentrates more power in the government’s hands.
This represents a disappointing reversal. In my former professional roles, I witnessed as few others did the entry of Poland and Hungary into the Euroatlantic institutions. I saw firsthand the eagerness and hope of their peoples at that momentous time. That is why it is so hard for me to understand their position today.
Of course, it is not unreasonable that Poland and Hungary, whose sovereignty was largely usurped by the Soviet Union, are particularly sensitive to external efforts to shape their decision-making and have a stronger sense of national identity than other EU countries. But rejecting the EU will not insulate them from the uncertainty resulting from globalization. On the contrary, it will leave them far more vulnerable to the phenomenon’s myriad risks.
Some have used disenchanting experiences with globalization as an excuse for a return to protectionism and the supposedly halcyon days of strong national borders. Others, wistfully recalling a nation-state that never really existed, cling to national sovereignty as a reason to refuse further European integration. Both groups question the foundations of the European project. But their memory fails them, and their yearnings mislead them.

India is Really Trimurti

There is an India that is. And there is an India we constantly dream of. And of course there is an India the world sees. All three are different. We talk of one India while thinking about another. We budget for one India and then go spend it on another. We worry about one India, boast about the other. What confuses us even more is there is an India that once was, which some of us still yearn for and want to return to.
This is actually an Asian dilemma. We cannot forget our hoary past. We are not exactly delighted with the present. And we forever dream of the future. At the same time, we have to deal with what others think of us. Not just deal with it but also respond to it; at times we do it with anger and at times, as a business opportunity. So while we may disapprove of Mughal India, our biggest tourist attraction remains the Taj.
Those like me, who live in the India that is, are often called whiners. I get tweets that ask me if I see nothing good around me. It’s tough to explain to them that the India they are boasting about is not the India I live in. I am equally proud of my India but my India needs to be repaired, to be set right. It needs water. Its forests need to be protected. Its species need to be nurtured, not culled. It needs, above all, greater compassion towards all those struggling to stay alive. Not boastful claims of being the world’s fastest growing economy, which it well may be. But as long as it does not make life any better for the poorest and the weakest among us, that growth means nothing. It’s just a stupid number.
But no, I don’t blame those who see me as a whiner because they live in a different India. It’s an India propelled by fantastic political promises and a media that fuels them. My India, truth be spoken, is what you see around you, not what you fantasize about. It is the India you and I live in: a bit broken, a bit lost, a bit scary. It hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It lives in the shadows of poverty, grief, suicides, rapes. The heroes in my India are those who can survive it all and yet hold their heads high.
Are Governments only to blame? Perhaps not. Every nation has a burgeoning middle class that lives off hope. And politicians cater to that hope. They lie. They fantasize. They misinform, mislead, misguide. But, in the process, they fulfill a crucial function. They feed the dreams of people who have little else to see them through life. They give them slogans. They proffer them reasons to hate others who are different from them. Both politics and history have demonstrated, again and again, that anger binds more people than love. Love is what we idealize. Hate is what we feed on. Give people a good reason to hate and they will buy into it, even if they know you are manipulating them. In both love and politics, people enjoy being manipulated.
But those who see you from the outside are not easy to manipulate. That’s why there is another India too. The India others see us as. No, I am not talking about NRIs. Their worldview is tainted by nostalgia. I am talking about the world at large. They see an India that is different. We may not agree with their idea of India but we cannot ignore it either, for their perceptions drive our trade, affirm our stature in the world, and (most important) define our sense of self esteem. Whether we like it or not, we always see ourselves through the eyes of others. That is why we get angry with people like Wendy Doniger or Leslee Udwin or James Laine. We claim it is their prejudice that offends us. But it’s actually the doubts they raise in our own minds about our self image.
At the same time, we live in an India that exists in several centuries. This makes things even more complex. Different people worship differently. Different people think differently, believe in different things. And some of the things they believe in are part of our past. But we refuse to acknowledge that. We live with our past as if it is our present and we can build our future on it. So the Ram Mandir becomes crucial in UP, Jallikattu is vital in Tamil Nadu, the triple talaq exists as an intrinsic part of religious identity, and female genital mutilation survives because no one wants to tamper with faith. Honour killings, caste prejudice, violence against women, ostracism of the third gender, harassment of minorities, killing rationalists: these are part of a decadent historic agenda we are still trying to live out even as we dream of becoming one of the world’s great economic powers.
Which India do you live in? Which India do you want to live in? In which India flutters that flag under which you stand? Maybe there is no clear answer to that. But look within your heart and you will find the India you love.

Beyond capitalism?

Efforts to replace capitalism started right after its birth given the dislocations it caused soon. Even though 250 years later it continues to grow, its record is so mixed that searching for alternatives or at least improvements is still crucial. But to slay the beast, one must understand its nature first.
All socio-economic systems include underlying values and ideologies describing human life purpose and social relations; the main institutions implementing ideology; and their detailed policies. So, what is capitalism? Is it the mere presence of the profit motive, markets and private enterprises? These all existed much before capitalism. But from being fringe forces earlier, these values and institutions have become society’s dominant forces under capitalism.
Its core values — individualism, materialism and self-interest — have replaced traditional duty to gods, royalty and community etc as dominant global values. Institutionally, markets, which earlier covered a small sliver of human needs, now cover needs earlier provided free by communities, families, self-production and nature. Baby-sitting agencies replace family networks. Supermarket food replaces farm produce. Pristine, open access beaches become private resorts for the rich. People spend free time at malls instead of social circles. This intrusion of markets in all life spheres is capitalism’s essence.
These changes have given billions living standards earlier confined to royalties. However, the negatives are increasingly evident too: enormous inequality, ecological destruction, conflict, economic instability and anomie. Some of these even threaten life on earth. The application of the logic of market forces in all human spheres is a good thing, neoliberal sages say. But market forces were never accorded such respect before. In fact, the Urdu word for market forces (bazari log) has very negative connotations. The idea that societal interest is best served by giving the lead to commercial minds obsessively pursuing short-term self-interest and profits, often in ruthless rat races, is ludicrous.
Intrusion of markets in all spheres is capitalism’s essence. To find an alternative, one must first review the failure of capitalism’s erstwhile challenger. Soviet-style communism’s core values also prioritised materialism, but unlike capitalism, it pursued it through communalism and duty to the state, not individualism. Institutionally, markets and civic institutions were missing with an omnipotent state doing everything, even more than markets under capitalism. The system crushed individual initiative and consequently failed despite its salutary ethos of equality.
Thus, traditional society, communism and capitalism have all failed. The first two crushed individual initiative and caused serious rights violations and low productivity. Capitalism’s marriage of individual initiative with greed delivers high productivity but causes enormous ecological, political, spiritual and social problems. This brings humanity back to the drawing board.
A sustainable alternative must have foundational values and ideology which neither crush individual initiative nor unleash unbridled individual initiative linked mainly to greed. This means linking the ultimate life purpose not to self-interest or duty but the higher aims in human nature: inquisitiveness, wisdom, artistic creativity, altruism etc. Such aims unleash high individual energy, innovation and productivity too, like self-interest, without causing the same destruction.
Altruism has produced iconic agencies like MSF and Edhi Trust in Pakistan. Inquisitiveness has produced all major scientific discoveries from Newton to Einstein. The pursuit of wisdom has produced prophets and saints. These accomplishments did not involve self-interest and outshine everything produced by it.
Institutionally, this ideational base will make market institutions exist along with cooperatives, labour-owned companies, non-profits and professionally managed state agencies without supplanting them. Since self-interest and markets will not dominate, the system will not constitute capitalism despite their regulated presence.
The biggest challenge to this idealistic vision is that instead of higher aims, the majority currently prioritises petty self-interest or mindless duty to false gods. As the Soviet experiences reveal, a system fails if people do not adopt its values freely. Capitalism’s advantage is that it is much easier to mobilise humans around animalistic urges like greed rather than godly pursuits like wisdom. A capitalism-induced climatic or nuclear catastrophe may ultimately push humans towards higher aims.
Meanwhile, the focus could be on vanquishing not capitalism but neo-liberalism, its ugliest form. Scandinavian welfare capitalism provides a potent alternative. Scandinavian societies are also increasingly adopting post-materialistic values which may eventually produce post-capitalist economies. Until then, following Ghalib’s stoic life outlook, those already fed up with capitalism must watch humanity’s trysts with it bemusedly and stoically.

Stories of violence

Some years back, while browsing through the shelves of Boston’s famous Harvard Book Store, I found a book on Pakistan which was first published in 1950. Although the name of the author was missing, the book was published in Lahore in December, 1950. It is a curious little book which explains Pakistan as a young country made up of various ethnic groups, whose Muslim members got together to create a Muslim-majority country to safeguard the economic and political interests of South Asia’s Muslims from the majority-rule of Hindus in India.
Interestingly, the book then goes on to suggest that Pakistan was also created to safeguard the interests of South Asian Christians and lower-caste Hindus of India who were also ‘under threat from upper-caste Hindu majoritarianism and nationalism … ’
I compared this with a 1992 ‘Pakistan Studies’ book in which the author went to great lengths to explain Pakistan as a theological state surrounded by enemies. In fact, the book carried a separate chapter on these ‘enemies’ which was subdivided into sections on Hindus, Christians and Jews.
Ever since 1950, much has changed in the religious and ethnic demography of Pakistan, but the country still is a multicultural entity with numerous ethnic communities, languages, Muslim sects and sub-sects.
When hate is maufactured through textbooks the results are often generational. Although the country was conceived as a Muslim-majority state, according to scholar and educationist, Prof A.H. Nayyar, the idiom of Muslim majoritarianism started gaining more currency in the country’s ethos after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle. But whereas the 1950 book explained this majoritarianism as an entirely inclusive idea, it became more exclusive after 1971.
Dr Rubina Saigol is of the view that the attempt to enforce this ethos through school textbooks began in the early 1980s. In her paper and essay ‘Radicalisation of State & Society in Pakistan’, Saigol informs that in the 1980s, the syllabus was revised and textbooks were rewritten to create a more monolithic image of Pakistan as a theocratic state and Pakistani citizens as Muslim only.
According to Saigol, this clearly tells non-Muslim students that they are excluded from the national identity. In an extensive 2002 study, conducted by Nayyar and Dr Ahmad Salim, the following themes emerge most strongly in post-1971 history textbooks: That Pakistan is for Muslims alone; the ideology of Pakistan is deeply interlinked with faith; and that the students should take the path of war and martyrdom. All these are then put under the umbrella of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’.
Scholars such as Ayesha Jalal have argued that the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’ is an after-thought; it was absent at the time of the creation of Pakistan in 1947. According to her, Jinnah never used the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’. Also, for over a decade after the creation of Pakistan, the term was missing from official narratives.
Jalal informs that the phrase ‘ideology of Pakistan’ has no historical basis in the Pakistan movement. It was coined much later by those political forces that needed it to sanctify their particular brand of politics: especially those political entities who had earlier been against the creation of Pakistan because they believed Pakistan nationalism was a secular concoction.
Yet textbooks (ever since the 1980s) insist that the ideology of Pakistan was first pronounced by the Quaid. But no textbook has ever been able to cite a single reference to Jinnah using this term.
Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly on Sept 11, 1947 is completely contrary to the so-called ‘ideology of Pakistan’ as it is presented in school history books.
Some time after 1971, the subject of Indo-Pakistan history was replaced with ‘Pakistan Studies,’ with the sole purpose now was to define Pakistan as an exclusive faith-based state. The students were deprived of learning about pre-Islamic history of their region. Instead, history books now started with the Arab conquest of Sindh and swiftly jumped to the Muslim conquerors from Central Asia.
As scientist and author, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, has often lamented, all history in these books is along religious lines, while social, historical and economic causes are missing. Pakistanis are not told that the rise of Western powers in the last 500 years was mainly due to the advances made in education, science and culture. This rise was not based on military might alone, and certainly not on any overwhelming religious doctrine.
After 1979, the themes of war and martyrdom in textbooks became strong. In this period, history and social studies books openly eulogised these.
According to Nayyar, in Pakistan the impression one gets from textbooks is that students don’t learn history, but rather a carefully crafted collection of falsehoods. For example, in these books, Mohammad bin Qasim is declared the first Pakistani citizen. The story of the Arabs’ arrival in Sindh is recounted as the first moment of Pakistan.
Also, a widely taught history book insists that, “Although Pakistan was created in August 1947, the present-day Pakistan has existed, as a more or less single entity, for centuries.” A history book published in 1992 has on its cover a Muslim warrior holding a sword and charging in on a horse, and a chapter called ‘The Enemies of Islam’. This chapter too is broken into various sections that define these enemies as being Hindus, Christians and Jews.
In their study, both Nayyar and Salim conclude that one should not be surprised at the confusion among Pakistani children and youth after what they learn at school; a state of mind that they can carry well into their adult life as well. In her paper, Dr Saigol also stretches her study by looking at similar incidents of historical distortions in India. She suggests that Indian textbooks until the 1980s, avoided the economic and cultural reasons behind the break-up of India in 1947 and saw it as being purely a communal consequence triggered by the myopic religious impulse of Muslim leaders.
Saigol also informs how Indian textbooks also ignored the Hindutva dimension of Indian nationalism. As we can now see, this dimension has gradually become a predominant aspect of the Indian identity and, interestingly, its context and tone are mirror images of the belligerence found in the post-1980s Pakistani textbooks! The opposing twins have finally met.
Perhaps, the nature of the bloodshed during the Partition of India in 1947 was such that the official narratives on both sides of the divide decided to sacrifice the truth of partition on the killing fields. Instead, they created convoluted narrations in their still on-going attempts to blame each other for the bloodshed and its lingering consequences.
Both narratives are still trying to make sure that the truth remains buried where millions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs slaughtered each other almost 70 years ago. As if these truths just might undo the continuing status quo of suspicion and belligerence between the two states. Something which is not good for politics, I guess.

History Corrected: The Indian Subcontinent’s future Changed with Samugarh (1658) & not Plassey (1757)

On May 29, 1658, India’s history changed forever. Aurangzeb’s victory over his brother Dara Shikoh marked the beginning of Islamic bigotry in India that not only alienated Hindus but the much more moderate Sufis and Shias as well. Aurangzeb’s narrow Sunni beliefs were to make India the hotbed of Muslim fundamentalists, long before the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia sponsored the fanatics of Taliban and Islamic State.
Two great Mughal armies, led by Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shikoh and his third son Aurangzeb, clashed on a dusty plain 20 km southeast of Agra. It was not only a battle for the Mughal throne, but a battle for the very soul of India.
It pitted Dara, an eclectic scholar who respected all religions, against Aurangzeb who was an orthodox Sunni Muslim. Dara had translated the Bhagwad Gita and Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian, to make them known to the public for the first time. The fact that he had been a Sanskrit scholar shows that there had been considerable Hindu-Muslim amity in the time of Shahjahan.
But Dara had been a pampered prince who faced a smaller battle-hardened army that Aurangzeb had marched up from the Deccan, after defeating an Imperial army at Dharmat near Indore. Blocked at the Chambal River, Aurangzeb quietly slipped behind Dara’s lines to reach a secret ford across the Chambal by non-stop double marches over two days.
Dara now realised that Aurangzeb’s armies had outflanked his army and come very close to Agra, so he had to rush east without most of his cannons. The two armies met on a flat dusty plain east of a village called Samugarh, on an unbelievably hot day with the sun like a furnace in a cloudless sky. There was not enough water so many soldiers and horses collapsed of heat and sun stroke.
The battle was more than just a contest between Dara and his rebel brother. It was becoming a religious war with the Hindus supporting Dara and many Muslim nobles supporting Aurangzeb.
Dara was on the brink of victory when he was betrayed by one of his commanders, Khalilullah Khan. He then retreated to Lahore and then down the Indus. Eventually, he was brought to Delhi and put on trial.
He had written a book called the ‘Mingling of the Oceans’ showing the many similarities between the Quran and the Brahma Shastras. At the trial the imperial Qazi asked Dara to hand him the jade thumb ring that was still on his left hand. He is reported to have turned it over and asked why the green stone was inscribed with the words ‘Allah’ on one side and ‘Prabhu’ on the other.
Dara evidently replied that the creator was known by many names and called God, Allah, Prabhu, Jehova, Ahura Mazda and many more names by devout people in many different lands. He added that it is written in the Quran that Allah had sent down 1,24,000 messengers to show all the people of the world the way of righteousness and he believed that these messengers had been sent not only to Muslims but to all the people of the world in every age. Aurangzeb casually signed the order of execution after the Qazis found Dara guilty of heresy.
Aurangzeb’s inflexible religious bigotry made him lose the support of his influential Shia subjects as well as his many Hindu and Rajput followers. By persecuting his own Rajput followers he cut off his arms and weakened his military power. The Maratha leader Shivaji initially had no anti-Muslim sentiment and had been quite willing to become a Mughal Amir. Aurangzeb’s obstinate pride however alienated him and gave him a weapon to turn a purely political war against the Mughals into a religious war.
If Dara had won at Samugarh his rule might have promoted harmony between India’s turbulent peoples. A united Mughal empire may have prevented India from becoming so easily colonised by European powers. Samugarh marked the beginning of Islamic bigotry that led over the centuries to the Partition of India, the creation of Pakistan and the backlash of radical Hinduism. Samugarh was a tipping point in India’s history.

Being Unneighbourly: Pak-Afghan Imbroglio

Hostilities between Pakistan and Afghanistan are rising despite both facing a common enemy in the IS. Last month, the Pakistan-Afghanistan relations took a violent turn when both the countries deployed tanks and armoured personnel along their border at Torkham (Khyber pass), one of the busiest Durand Line crossings. The escalation resulted as Islamabad attempted to build a new fence and a gate for checking passports and inspecting cargo vehicles. Last month’s tensions, which culminated in the firing of mortars and several casualties, hark back to the structural bones of contention: Afghanistan has never recognised the Durand Line and is not prepared to accept it as the proper border. But this has never generated so much acrimony in the past.
Hostilities between the two countries have precipitated due to several factors over the last 12 months. Till then, the relations between Islamabad and Kabul were improving, largely because of the attitude of the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani. In contrast to his predecessor Hamid Karzai, who was seen to be close to India, Ghani had made overtures to Pakistan after assuming office. Soon after meeting Raheel Sharif in November 2014, Ghani had ordered action against some Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants suspected to have orchestrated the Peshawar tragedy of December 2014. He had also sent Afghan National Army cadets to study in Pakistan and turned down the Indian offer to supply Kabul with weapons — something made possible by the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership. Ghani had hoped that Islamabad would reciprocate by fighting against the irreconcilable Taliban, which had found refuge in Pakistan, and by bringing the others to the negotiating table. Pakistan government somewhat delivered by bringing the TTP to the Murree meeting in July 2015 for peace talks in a new format called the Quadrilateral Coordination Group. The QCG, comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US, recognised Pakistan’s key role.
However, this initiative was short-lived. In late July, peace talks broke down after the Afghan government revealed that Mullah Omar had died two years ago in Karachi. After this episode, the new Taliban chief, Mullah Mansour could not be persuaded to come to the negotiation table. The Pakistanis consider that by making the death of Mullah Omar public, some Afghan elements, including Karzai and members of the security apparatus that had remained anti-Pashtun because of its Tajik majority, sabotaged the peace process. The Afghan authorities had a different explanation. For them, the peace talks in the QCG did not go anywhere because Islamabad tried to use them for re-establishing some of its lost influence over Afghanistan. By making the demise of Mullah Omar public, the Afghans tried to weaken the Taliban and deprive Pakistan of one of the bargaining chips it had over the Taliban.
The second factor of hostility has much to do with India and Iran. Besides the recognition of the Durand Line, the other priority of Pakistan is to contain the Indian presence on its western border. In December 2015, Narendra Modi not only visited Kabul to inaugurate the parliament built by India but also handed over three Mi-25 attack helicopters to Ghani. And in May, Modi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Ghani met in Tehran to sign a three-way transit agreement on Iran’s Chabahar port. This agreement may affect the bargaining power of Islamabad vis-à-vis Kabul by further shifting some of its trade through Iran instead of Pakistan.
Thirdly, trans-border terrorism has become a major source of tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, Kabul has accused Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) of welcoming Taliban. Groups paying allegiance to Mullah Omar (including the Haqqani network) and close to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the anti-Soviet jihad days, used the safe havens in Pakistan to attack the Afghan National Army and the NATO forces. This has continued even after the demise of Mullah Omar and the withdrawal of most of the foreign troops.
In April, Kabul cancelled its participation in the QCG meeting — to which Islamabad had invited the Qatar-based Taliban — and protested against a massive terrorist attack in Kabul, attributed to the Haqqani network.
But trans-border terrorism has become a two-way traffic after operations in the North Waziristan region pushed TTP operatives to the Afghan side. Fazlullah, the TTP chief, had found refuge in Afghanistan after a Swat operation in 2009. Kabul had also welcomed Hafiz Saeed Khan. Drug trafficking was the other reason why Pakistan wanted to manage its border more effectively, in Torkham and elsewhere.
While Islamabad and Kabul have many reasons to fight each other, there is one reason for collaboration: The Islamic State, which is making inroads on both sides of the border, but particularly in Afghan districts bordering Pakistan like Nangarhar. The IS has attracted some Taliban and some TTP commanders not only because of the crisis in the leadership of these groups but also because some Taliban leaders were seen to be too close to Pakistan. Few Afghans like their big neighbour because of its international agenda. The IS has affinities with the TTP and its vision is in stark contrast to the limited, territorial objectives of the Taliban.
Interestingly, two of the IS Afghan leaders — Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim and Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost — have transformed into trans-national terrorists after their years in Guantanamo (where they learnt Arabic among other things). While both countries have a common enemy in the IS, it may not be a big enough threat as of now to persuade Kabul and Islamabad to resume talks.
Such negotiations will happen anyway because Afghanistan cannot ignore Pakistan — they share a 2,250 km long border. But mutual suspicion may further undermine the peace process already complicated by external actors. While the US cannot be part of the solution anymore — there are only 10,000 American soldiers left in Afghanistan — they have become a part of the problem according to Islamabad. Pakistan saw a contradiction in the drone attack that killed Mansour and told Washington DC that if the US wanted an interlocutor for peace talks, it should be spared.

Kashmir like Ireland, Spanish Basque and Quebec Shows Militancy as Culture

Unhappy militants are usually unhappy in the same way. What connects, for example, the Northern Irish and the Basque Spanish, of the past, with today’s Kashmiris and Palestinians is that they would rather crawl on broken glass than give up their activism. This happens when resistance becomes an integral aspect of culture and an identity badge, as it, unfortunately, has in Kashmir. It is no longer a political weapon but, as “culture”, it throbs like a heart.
The way out is to drop the assumption of Kashmir’s “exceptionalism” and learn from the Irish, the Basques and the Quebecois. Till a few years back, well within recent memory, militancy, as “culture”, was a star item with all of them too. Yet, as the clock ticks, today they are full members of their respective nation states, and in peace.
How did that happen?
The bombings in Quebec, pitched gun battles in Basque land, not to mention a full-blown civil war in Ireland, accustomed people to a certain way of life. Getting to the grocers by side stepping blood and bodies had become a common enough practice. Far from acting as a turn-off, this immunised people to mass deaths, with every killing acting like a booster dose.
The parallels between these pasts elsewhere and Kashmir should have had an eye widening impact. Yet we continue to approach the violent Valley with blinkers on. Whenever peace is hit, we call it a flesh wound, and hope to heal it with smooth talk and hard force. It may well have begun with no jobs and many cops, but, over the years, an unhappy evolution has taken place. Kashmiris now, wives and parents included, have made the transition from the politics of grievance to the politics of culture. This makes friendship handbooks and sponsored investments as attractive as leftover fish on ice.
The prevailing Kashmiri culture of militancy is neither up for sale, nor sweet talk. Neither can security personnel calmly load coffins, weighted by one of their own, and call it a well spent day. Clearly, it is time to change the roof and bring other people in.
Let us examine, for example, how the Irish, the Spanish and the Canadians dealt with militant separatists of their own. They all began by crafting a new culture of accommodation that went beyond their earlier stated positions, often sanctified by centuries of official practice. To succeed in this mission, every stakeholder had to give and give, and only sometimes take.
In the case of Basque country, the rest of Spain made a special effort to win over the ETA separatists by innovating a formula that probably made General Franco sit up in his grave. First, Basques were allowed to raise their own taxes and spend it the way they preferred, except in areas of defence and external affairs. Second, once the draft was agreed upon between Madrid and the Basques, not a punctuation mark was changed in the final declaration. This had a huge symbolic impact. Third, Basque language, earlier “outlawed” by General Franco, now received full official status.
Together these created a brand new culture of politics that was till then unthinkable. This so outmaneuvered the old culture of militancy that banners from many Basque balconies cry out: “ETA NO”. Even militant supporters among churchmen (the equivalent of our Mullahs and Sants) are now ready to confess they were wrong.
The peace process in Ireland, culminating in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, also set out to do the impossible, namely to render the Irish culture of militancy irrelevant. What made matters difficult was the frequent breakdown of truce while peace talks were on. Here too there were grand gestures that the old cultures, both of the militants and the status-quoists, would never have dreamt of. Forget about letting them sit down to negotiate, they would not even be given standing room.
At the end of many long days, the Agreement gave the people of Northern Ireland the freedom to choose, without interference, between United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. To make this a reality, the Republic of Ireland had to be big; big enough to withdraw its historical claim to the North. Once this choice was approved as authentic, the Northern Irish voted in favour of Britain. The bluff was called and the game was won!
In Quebec too, when the choice was given, the majority opted to live in Canada, but only after the French language was officially given pride of place in the province. The militant FLQ, which was never as strong as the IRA in Ireland, vanished overnight and is barely remembered even by the older generation.
The first move, in all these instances, came from the most powerful side. It did not diminish its glory but instead added to it. In India, we need to think imaginatively too, but if Britain had the Republic of Ireland as a willing partner, we too need a cooperative Pakistan. Of course, we cannot imitate either Ireland, or Spain or Canada, but we can be inspired by their histories to open our minds.
Kashmir has often been called the “Switzerland of India”. But Kashmir would be better served today if it is also known as the Ireland, or the Basque country, of India

Organics, not GMOs: Cause of your being sick

It is not GMOs, stupid, that make you sick. It is the much praised, exalted to the skies organics that you need to be careful about. In 2015, the recalls of organic foods amounted to 7% of all food units recalled. This is all the more shocking since the organic farms account for only about 1% of the agricultural acreage.
Karma can bea real bitch, and so cruel. Just think how many times anti-GMO activists have protested against the imaginary risks of food that has been genetically modified. Now a favorite snack of those same protesters, the sacred granola bar, has been found to pose an actual health risk.
Anti-genetic engineering campaigns are among the activities bankrolled by organizations such as the Clif Bar Family Foundation, which uses the considerable profits it receives from selling “healthy” and “natural” snack foods to denigrate the products of modern farming and extol supposedly superior organic alternatives. Like Clif Bars.
The truth is that paying the “organic tax” — the price premium associated with organic products — makes you no healthier. Recalls of organic foods amounted to 7% of all food units recalled in 2015, even though organic farms account for only about 1% of agricultural acreage. In early June, several types of Clif Bars were recalled from stores because they contained organic sunflower kernels potentially contaminated with a bacterium called listeria. Food poisoning from this nasty bug kills hundreds of Americans every year.
Fortunately, the problem was detected before anyone was sickened by the Clif Bars or other affected organic snacks that were made by Kashi and Bear Naked, both subsidiaries of Kellogg. These products all contained seeds from SunOpta, which describes itself as a “leading global company focused on organic, nongenetically modified (‘non-GMO’) and specialty foods.”
A similar sort of karmic revenge struck Chipotle Mexican Grill last year. The fast-food restaurant chain had sought to gain market share with ads that vilified conventional agriculture and boldly proclaimed their move toward “no GMO” ingredients. But the company proved more adept at marketing than safe food preparation, and about 60 customers in 20 states were sickened by norovirus or bacteria (E.coli and salmonella). Twenty were hospitalized.
The superior safety and environmental benefits of food made from genetically engineered plants have been proven over decades. Many genetically engineered crops resist insects and contamination with dangerous fungal toxins such as mycotoxins. And unlike new crop varieties modified with less precise, less predictable techniques that are permitted in organic agriculture, genetically engineered crops have all been exhaustively tested and are subject to government regulation.
Organic farming practices reject many modern technological farming advances as if there were some sort of golden age of agriculture when primitive techniques produced better results. That notion is complete nonsense. A 2012 report by researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy analyzed data from 237 studies to determine whether organic foods are safer or healthier than nonorganic foods. They concluded that fruits and vegetables that met the criteria for “organic” were on average no more nutritious than their far cheaper conventional counterparts, nor were those foods less likely to be contaminated by bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella.
Why on Earth would anyone think that using raw manure as a fertilizer — in essence spreading feces on food plants — produces healthier food?
Some of the potential problems with organic produce seem like a matter of common sense. Why on Earth would anyone think that using raw manure as a fertilizer — in essence spreading feces on food plants — produces healthier food for the dining table? (It’s allowed, but the FDA requires certain intervals between the application of raw manure and harvesting.)
And the widely held belief — which the organic industry promotes — that organic growers don’t use pesticides is simply untrue. Although modern pesticides are prohibited, according to data from USDA, there is extensive cheating. Moreover, many of the primitive pesticides permitted to organic farmers pose significant dangers.
As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a 2012 Scientific American article: “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as nonorganic ones.” For example, neem oil, a bug killer, is considered “natural” because the substance is found in the seeds of a tree, but “natural” doesn’t mean safe. The stuff is known to cause seizures and comas in humans if consumed in large doses, and it kills bumblebees at very low concentrations.
Modern science has designed far better pesticides than neem oil that are safer, more targeted and much more effective at significantly lower concentrations. Modern pesticide seed treatments, for example, mean that crops can sometimes be grown with little, if any, need for spraying plants.
Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of the safety of modern agriculture, Clif Bar isn’t backing down. The company’s website contains anti-genetic engineering propaganda: “GMOs are simply the latest Band-Aid on a broken system — a faulty tool in the conventional, chemically dependent farming system.”
The multibillion-dollar organic food industry devotes massive resources to perpetuating the myth that 19th century farming methods make food healthier and better for the environment because it has to persuade consumers to spend on average an extra 50%, or more, for its products. Better to be guided by the facts instead of fears promulgated by self-interested food activists.

Colonised Britain: London’s Brick Lane an example of the empire striking back

There are two neighbours. One is a muscular, aggressive type, the other is relatively weak and peaceable. The aggressive neighbour forces his way into the other’s house and takes over the place.
The intruder takes over all the resources of the household, including most of the food in the kitchen. As a result, the intruder and his family become even stronger and stouter than they were before, while the weak neighbour and his family are reduced to being close to starvation and become even weaker than before.
The intruder doesn’t only take over all the physical resources of the occupied household but also takes over the mindset and thought processes of the inhabitants. They are made to learn a language and codes of behaviour very different from their own. They become slave labour who do their masters’ bidding.
Then one day the aggressive neighbour, tired of the responsibilities which come with being the boss, goes back to his own house, which now is in need of repair. But having got fat and complacent from not doing any work, the one-time aggressor must now let his once subjugated neighbour come into his house and take over its repairs and day-to-day running, and change many of the rules of that household.
In a nutshell, that’s the story of coloniser Britain turning colonised Britain by its former colonies, London’s Brick Lane is a striking example of this. Many if not most of the street signs are in Bangla. Bengali, not English, is the lingua franca. Churches have given way to madrassas and mosques; pubs have yielded to halal meat shops and tikka takeaways. Skirts and suits have been replaced by hijabs and skull caps.
The so-called British way of life has been displaced by a Bangladeshi way of life as a consequence of what could be called the karma of colonialism. In the next few decades the immigration population of Britain could overtake the native population. Empire will come full circle. Britannia once ruled the waves; tomorrow it might rue those waves.