Sexual Harassment Special 2: #Metoo Can’t be Ignore-But What Happens After?

A year ago, at a discussion of how angry resentful men were rocking the world, electing reactionary governments and creating political volatility and often I wondered aloud: but where are the angry young women? Presumably, they are touched by these furies too, and by all this masculinity on the rampage?
Well, at least in the United States, something has exploded. After enduring the contempt and misogyny of the presidential campaign and seeing a chief practitioner elected, now the angry women are everywhere. They are calling out their abusers, gathering strength from each other. And the effect has been cataclysmic – studio bosses, editors, senators, chefs, men once thought to be masters of the universe, have been toppled. Time magazine declared 2017 the year of the “silence-breakers”.
This is happening far, far away from us. The women being heard now have a certain visibility and influence. They are guaranteed to be heard by the media and social media. This churn is yet to affect American women in low wage jobs, let alone challenge male impunity in other places.
But this is still a decisive moment; the harms of sexual harassment, and the scale of it, have been made abundantly clear to everyone. Some men have been indignant, confused, justificatory. Some claim that this will cramp all sexual encounters, as though women can’t tell the difference between a misguided pass and a threat, or that they’re vindictive enough to pass one off as the other. Other men are stunned to realise how the other half lives. For many women, reliving the experience of others is a fresh reminder of the ways we are subordinated – whether you’re a movie star in Beverly Hills or a domestic worker in Bengaluru, your sexual compliance can suddenly become key to keeping your job.
Sexual harassment is not about sex, it is about inequality at work, about erasing a woman’s worth, her mind, her competence, and reducing her to a body. It turns her labour, her striving, into a form of prostitution. And women who do climb high in their professional worlds are not exempt from these patterns of domination, even if they personally escaped them. And so, to blame Priyanka Chopra or Angelina Jolie for not speaking up sooner or more forcefully is to look away from the actual male perpetrators and the power structure that keeps women at their beck and call.
This is a moment of sharp recognition, but this will pass. We don’t know what will remain – blowback from an injured patriarchy, or an enduring transformation. India had its own reckoning a few years ago, after the Delhi gangrape – for a brief and vivid season, the question of women’s freedoms, their full rights, their autonomy, occupied public discourse. We saw the extent of sexual violence, the fear of it, the way it is reinforced by institutional hostility and popular culture, the way it cramps women’s autonomy. Laws on rape were amended, police reforms were promised.
But real change has not been easy or linear, as the later life of those very laws makes clear. Social norms remain stubborn, power has a male form. In some ways, our freedoms have retreated since, as conservative forces became ascendant in India. Their focus is on hierarchy, a natural order among humans that must be maintained.
From Banaras Hindu University to Hadiya, a woman’s right to study and work, love whom she wants and part on fair terms, her right to religious freedom, have all been under attack. Women’s rights are championed instrumentally and insincerely, as in the triple talaq cause. In this new-old worldview women can be possessed and prized, even ‘empowered’ from above, but not allowed to think and act as they want, or to defy their male protectors.
But even as that order presses down, it is being bucked more forcefully than ever. The women’s movement has been building strength, deepening and diversifying for decades. The quest for justice zigs and zags – Bhanwari Devi, the Rajasthani social worker who was gangraped, is still to get justice, but because of her, Indian women now have a law against sexual harassment in the workplace. The Nirbhaya moment may have gone, but the constituency it mobilised remains awake and vigilant. There is greater attention to the complexity of domination, how womanhood is one axis, caste, class and race are others – and how feminism must include them to be meaningful.
More women are speaking up, boosting each other’s signal, pushing back against the norms, giving precise words to male entitlement with terms like mansplaining, manterrupting, manels, etc. From ads to movies to comedy, this resistance is in our cultural bloodstream now. Many complain about this commodity feminism – the Dove commercial kind of girl-power that borrows the language but dilutes the threat to patriarchy. But it’s only one strand, among many others. There is feminist solidarity to be found and forged, more than ever. Women have voice, if not influence yet.
If 2017 was the year of the silence breakers, may the clamour continue. We don’t have to delude ourselves about the power and resilience of those we confront; the fact of inequality continues to distort everything in a woman’s life. There may be exceptions, but the rule remains. If the consequences of this year’s rage are to remain consequential, it’s on us.

Sexual Harrasment Special 1: #Metoo: Sexual harassment Calls for Collective Social Responsibility

Words have the power to change our reality. In many ways, 2017 proved this beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a watershed year for exposing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Me too – these two little words might only be five letters in length, but they had the tremendous power to give a voice to the global cry on sexual harassment. From Hollywood to Bollywood, multi-national corporations (MNCs) to low-wage industries, the hospitality industry to hospitals, women have been speaking out about their experiences. Even academia is facing its own #MeToo movement over allegations of sexual misconduct against professors.
In 2006, when Tarana Burke started the movement by creating a non-profit organisation – ‘Just be Inc’ – in the United States to help victims of sexual harassment and assault, she could have never imagined that it would assume such a global scale 11 years later. Since October 2017, thousands of women around the world have been taking social media by storm with the hash tag #MeToo following the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein when actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan decided to speak up. 1.7 million tweets across 85 countries in the first few weeks alone brought to the fore the worst kept secret of our generation. Spanning over three decades, this harassment epidemic involves hundreds of aspiring women hoping to get a toehold in the industry. TIME magazine hailed the anti-harassment movement by naming “The Silence Breakers” on its cover after millions shared their personal tales of sexual assault. India too joined this rallying cry and the global outpouring for justice. Many victims decided to stand up to be included. Bollywood actresses including Richa Chadha, Priyanka Chopra, and Kalki Koechlin have spoken against the subtle sexism that exists in the industry and called on the industry to address the issues of casting couch and sexual exploitation.
Now the question is what comes next? Where, in terms of the future of this social media-based campaign, does that leave the momentum of the movement? How can we cultivate a collective social responsibility by not trying to cover up abuse or to avoid it by sophisticated bypasses?
This winter when I revisited my old copy of Thomas More’s Utopia, it seemed remarkably contemporary nearly five centuries after it was written. The common narrative which navigates us through this great commentary is the service to society versus contemplative withdrawal. Utopia was a passionate condemnation of the outrageous social injustices of the European society. Quite admirably it also reflected on issues of women’s rights way back in 1516 through the journey of a mysterious traveller Raphael Hythloday. His name reflects the bipolarity of his character. Raphael means ‘God’s healer’ and Hythloday means ‘the peddler of nonsense’. On the one hand he is an intense defender and supporter of equal rights for women; on the other hand he is an advocate of inhuman social engineering which fuels suppression. Indian society is a lot like his character. The way in which we deal with this pressing social issue is largely influenced by the bipolarity of our social and religious norms and the strained cultural complexity. Though we are so quick to join the global outrage, eventually we tend to our lose grip on reality. The reality I am talking about is our failure to cultivate a collective social responsibility to deal with sexual harassment against women.
When a mainstream conversation is initiated over this issue, many people either think about the extreme cases or they are oblivious to the fact that it’s happening in their workplace too. Strangely, in India, even today we look at these incidents as isolated occurrences. We are simply not aware of the impact it is having. The first time I attempted to have a conversation with my friends from various sectors over sexual misconduct in workplace was in 2013, and many of them and their male colleagues thought that sexual harassment is not a problem in their workplace. That stands in stark contrast to what I have seen through the numerous cases we dealt with over the years. The truth is that unresolved, low-level harassment always lead to a major crime.
Sexual harassment is not just about lust, it is about domination, control, power and misogyny. The case in point is the film industry in India which caters to the sexism that thrives in our society. More often than not, women are portrayed in insultingly reductive roles. Female objectification rules the roost in Bollywood and other regional film industries. Even though there have been a few female-centric movies, the industry hasn’t come a long way from the trend it set in the 80’s and the 90’s by resorting to stalking, touching, and groping to win the heart of the heroine. To these categories of absurd entertainment, they added item numbers in the last two decades. Unfortunately the industry has long since rejected any attempts to beat the blatant traditional sexism which shapes public perception of treatment of women. It is absurd and dangerous o society as a vast majority of the people believe that films are a reflection of the society. Culturally, Indian society doesn’t offer a free environment for a healthy social interaction between girls and boys. The inter-mingling comes with lots of restrictions. Much of a man’s perception of how to deal with a woman comes from what he sees onscreen. The ugly narrative of gratuitous objectification of women most certainly plays a huge role in making him believe that it is socially accepted to hassle a woman against her will. Gender-stereotyping by our films is certainly not favourable to treating a woman with dignity.
It’s heartening to see, that in a recent development, a new generation of women stars have been speaking out against objectification. I don’t wish to argue that the film industry is directly responsible for the lethal societal attitude towards women. But I strongly feel that they have contributed a lot to reinforce it. This is precisely why they have an obligation to rise above commercial concerns and be responsible for what they preach.
Indian schools must actively promote a sex education programme to help young adolescents to learn about their body, as a healthy instructional intervention has the potential to positively influence the way they see their sexuality, as well as allow them to learn to seek consent and identify unhealthy relationship behaviour. In the long run it is vital to prevent sexual violence.
We need to rise above the typically narrow social response which follows this pattern – Harassment, maligning and slut-shaming – when a woman decides to speak up. Sexual harassment has been seen as an accepted norm in the workplace for so long that we see any such incident as an isolated event, rather than an epidemic which needs to be addressed instantly and holistically. The onus of turning around the toxic work environment for better is on all of us – a collective social responsibility. It’s time for a cultural revolution, a change in mindsets is required to combat this issue and to ensure effective implementation of the legal provisions in order to instil confidence among the victims.
The reality is that law alone cannot transform a society. The most noteworthy contribution of the #MeToo movement was that, for the first time ever, there was a global consensus over the fact that sexual harassment is not a law and order issue alone, but has deeper cultural undertones. It also acknowledged that it is not an isolated issue, but it is an everyday occurrence. Values must start at home. It takes a collective social responsibility to teach every boy how to honour and respect every girl. #MeToo movement has encouraged many women to share their stories who otherwise would never have felt comfortable enough to open up. The tide is turning favourably towards the numerous, voiceless women. We cannot comfortably sit back and expect social media to go to trial. It does not matter if a woman is violated in the home, on the streets, or in the workplace. Sexual harassment hampers the spirit of womanhood and it must end. As Tarana Burke says, even though it took a massive celebrity scandal to bring mainstream awareness, the time to make a move is now. We need to focus on the systems that allow sexual violence to go scot-free through a combination of systematic intervention and rigorous enforcement of laws. We have an opportunity to create a shared value to make 2018 a year of reckoning for women around the world. We have a chance to build solidarity. Let’s act together now.

Why the Anti-Global Backlash?

Why has an anti-global backlash gripped so many diverse economic and political systems at the same time?
What do Donald Trump, Vladmir Putin, Nigel Farage, Recep Erdoğan and other new nationalists have in common? They all blame hostile foreign forces for national decline, real or perceived. They have promised to “take back control” to make their country great again. They will fail, unless they can fix the very global institutions against which they rail.
Like the collapse of the Soviet Union, the recent wave of nationalism and populism took experts largely by surprise. Many post hoc explanations have focused on the secular rise of inequality, the resilience of authoritarianism, the persistence of racism and xenophobia, the decay of the public sphere in the digital era, and the long-term decline in trust in governments and elites.
These trends are important factors. But why have similar dynamics gripped so many diverse economic and political systems at the same time? Typically, the answer is “globalization”. But this complex phenomenon requires unpacking. Certainly the benefits of the post-war liberal order, though substantial, have not been shared equally. The consequences for workers in industrialized democracies, exposed to the so-called “China effect,” may have been particularly dislocating. But why is the anti-global backlash happening now?
Our shrinking ability to manage globalization is significant. The post-war order benefited from a largely virtuous circle in which increasing globalization required more global cooperation, which enabled further interdependence. The number of international institutions and their offshoots increased from a few hundred in 1950 to more than 7,000 today. By “embedding” the global economy in a linked system of domestic regulation and global governance, the industrialized world was able to sustain an economic miracle, as John Ruggie has argued.
In some ways, this system worked too well. As more, and more diverse, countries joined the global economy, consensus became harder. As global problems grew more complex and penetrated deep into domestic societies, interdependence demanded sharper adjustments. In response, institutions stagnated and fragmented, and global governance became gridlocked.
The consequences have been severe. Our inability to contain the 2008-2009 financial crisis cost trillions in household wealth and millions of jobs worldwide. We have not yet put in place adequate safeguards to prevent another crisis. Our failure to contain, let alone stop, the wars in the Middle East has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Our weak international refugee system has failed to alleviate the suffering of the millions displaced by conflict. While there has been some progress on efforts to mitigate global climate change, a year of violent droughts, flooding, storms, and fires across the world highlights how far we have to go.
Worse, our failure to manage global problems has fuelled an anti-global backlash. This weakens the system even more, by attacking the domestic foundations of the global order. It is a self-reinforcing gridlock.
Gridlock undermines our ability to manage globalization and deal with global issues. Significant segments of the world’s population suffer as a result. Exposed to the hard edges of global linkages, populations naturally react and seek to reassert national control. These political conditions let nationalist, populist leaders succeed. Wise governments could use this opportunity to regulate globalization more effectively, as Dani Rodrik and others have argued. But instead of calibrating nuanced and productive solutions, such leaders tend to reject global cooperation and openness altogether. This often exacerbates the very problems that brought them to power.
While the new nationalists are, in part, symptoms of the problem, they also compound it. How likely would Brexit have been without the refugee crisis in Europe? How would President Donald Trump’s electoral prospects have changed if workers in the rust belt hadn’t lost both their jobs and their mortgages?
The new nationalism’s global reach shows that we cannot understand the trend by looking solely at individual countries. Similarly, the link between gridlocked global governance and the new nationalism shows that we cannot develop solutions in isolation. In an interdependent world, better management of globalization on every scale is needed to really “take back control”.
Making global governance great again will be a decades-long challenge. But already we see pathways of change emerging, sometimes in direct reaction to the new nationalism. Different actors are devising new ways to solve global challenges, be it philanthropists tackling disease, cities teaming up across borders to fight climate change, or local communities welcoming migrants and refugees. Ambitious declarations like the Paris Agreement or the Sustainable Development Goals focus us towards common projects. In some countries, politicians are even winning power by promising greater cooperation on shared challenges.
If we can build on these positive trends to find new and better ways to manage globalization and deliver real, shared benefits, we will undermine a key driver of the new nationalism. If we fail, the cycle of weakening global governance and nationalist backlashes will continue to spiral.

 

Geopolitical Turmoil Ensnaring Us?

The world is at risk of sleepwalking into a future of widening chaos, says Espen Barth Eide.
Without a concerted effort to properly address current trends, the world is at risk of sleepwalking into a future of widening chaos with growing danger of interstate conflict. This is the conclusion of a year-long review of global risks, The Global Risks Report 2016, being presented today in London. Geopolitical risk is among the top concerns, but it is the convergence of drivers at different levels – national, regional and global – that threatens to overwhelm existing institutions, and should push us to engage a wider range of stakeholders.
Economic and technological change is happening at a pace that leaves most political and regulatory systems unable to cope. This spurs dissatisfaction with leaders and increasing polarization in society, already weakened by a steep fall in social cohesion and trust. Trust is a fundamental element of social capital, and when it wanes, it negatively affects all aspects of society. Loss of trust results in part from a steady increase in inequality, undermining the feeling essential to the fabric of society of citizens being “in the same boat”.
Downbeat perception of future economic opportunity aggravates grievances, now also in many of the economies that only recently were labelled as “emerging”. Polarization and growing populism forces leaders to take rather ill-advised, short term measures that may give the appearance of “doing something” without really tackling protracted crises at their roots.
Individuals increasingly feel disengaged from traditional structures of power, but strongly engaged through new forms of participation and voice, but in ways that do not necessarily foster shared understanding in society.
The conflicts in Syria and Iraq show how today’s wars are not confined to the battlefront itself. They are “glocal” in the sense that while most of the fighting takes place in a specific region, accompanying terrorist attacks can happen anywhere. Sophisticated recruitment campaigns and social media based information warfare has become genuinely global, with fighters from over 100 countries involved in Syria and Iraq. The allure of joining the battle, for ideological or personal reasons, is just a click away from a teenager’s computer somewhere in a European city. Intelligence services around the world are struggling to cope with a new reality, challenged by everything from well-organized, stealthy groups to self-radicalized “lone wolves”. Three years after the Snowden revelations, the debate on privacy vs. security has been slow to move on from recriminations to the search for practical solutions that command broad-based support.
Cohesion and trust between countries and societies are also under threat. In its most extreme form, this trend may lead to successful calls for withdrawal from an integrated and interlinked world, creating the 21st Century equivalent of medieval “walled cities” that offer the few a sense of security and order, protecting them from the “sea of disorder” on the outside. For instance, the disjointed political debacle over how to manage the reality of people on the move, while not primarily a European phenomenon, has led to strong demands to undo some of Europe’s primary successes of integration, like the Schengen open borders agreement. A gradual dis-integration of Europe would not only be a regional drama, it would, if it happened, have severe implications for global norms and joint aspirations.
This lack of trust and cohesion is also a factor in the development of “hybrid” war. Adversaries – be they states or non-state actors – exploit popular mistrust of government in the design of information operations deployed through conventional media channels as well as more sophisticated campaigns to influence individuals directly via social media. Asymmetric, ambiguous, grey zone, non-linear – these have become the default mode of conflict between major powers seeking to keep their rivalry below the threshold of what is legally defined as “war”.
With nuclear powers upgrading their delivery systems, confirming their continued emphasis on the ultimate tool of deterrence, such deniable or indirect ways to influence events, including the use of proxy forces, are gradually becoming the norm. The face of warfare itself is changing. Aversion to outright conflict is also a factor in the rise of geo-economics, or the use of economic relations, sanctions, trade regimes and potentially even means of payment for the purpose of geopolitical rivalry.
The implications for the infrastructure of the global economy are highlighted by the fact that every conflict today is also a cyber-conflict. Cyberspace has become a domain of warfare, on pair with land, sea, air and space. In cyberspace, however, the attacker gets an advantage that he would not have in the physical world, as distance and early warning becomes largely irrelevant. Possibly, globalization has contributed to new modes of conflict that, if left unchecked, could bear the seeds of its destruction.
For some time, the World Economic Forum has warned against globalization going into reverse. The sense of the first post-Cold War decades was that economy finally was becoming open and global, free of the geopolitical lid imposed by great powers. This assumption is again challenged. We see new institutions emerge, driven by new actors, at times complementing, at times challenging the established order. Only time will tell if this is a good or a bad development.
We could see it as a trend towards a net of interlinked regional systems coalescing around regional hegemons, displacing a unified, global economic order, but still sustained by some form of overall agreement. But it could also be read as an early indication that we are transiting into a future global system not so much built on a shared set of values, but rather on tacit understanding of each other’s interests and consensus on the lowest common denominators.
Last year’s edition of the Global Risk Report featured the increase of fragility and disintegration on the one hand, and the return of strategic competition between strong and well-organized states on the other. Both trends strengthened in 2015, at times merging into a perfect storm like the one we are now observing in the Middle East: the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to name a few, have local, regional and global dimensions. Regional players, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, compete over the future order of the region. Major global players are simultaneously competing and cooperating, at times engaged on opposing sides in the battle but also at times seeking to forge diplomatic compromises.
This gloomy picture, however, is not a given. The array of technological advances that, when combined, takes us into the Forth Industrial Revolution – a main theme of this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos – hold out the promise of new solutions to old problems. In principle, we are living in a world of almost endless opportunity; with phenomenal advances in health, sustainable energy and economic possibilities. Without effective governance and direction, however, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could also enhance the sense of deprivation and societal alienation. Existing modes of governance seem largely unable to deal with the complex challenges or to fully reap the opportunities available with dedication, foresight and mutually beneficial solutions.
A broad, shared understanding of global trends, across societal sectors, and a will to collectively think through how to deal with them is urgently needed in order to prevent further deterioration and to stake out a better course.

Saturday Special: How Canadians Will Earn a Living When Canada is 300 Years Old?

 

Canadians in 2167 will be engaged in many new forms of work we can’t even imagine today. Canadians have seen the world of work rapidly reshape itself around them in the past 30 years. Globalization, technological change, declining unionization rates and new business strategies are among the forces that have combined to create a labour market characterized by stagnant wages and eroding job quality.
Will technological advances in areas like Artificial Intelligence and robotics exacerbate these conditions or provide pathways to a more equitable distribution of profits throughout the economy in the decades to come? How will unions rethink their role in a de-industrialized economy with gig workers spread across the globe? How can workers ensure they’re getting a fair share of the economic pie?
Answering these questions over a five-year time frame is challenging enough. Anticipating what the world of work will look like in 150 years is orders of magnitude harder.
But with the supreme confidence that comes with knowing nobody will be able to prove me wrong for a very long time, I would like to propose five defining characteristics of Canadian jobs in 2167:
We won’t make things anymore – we’ll all be in the service industry. The proportion of Canadians who work in goods-producing sectors has been in a steady state of decline for decades – down from 35 per cent in 1976 to 21 per cent by 2016. Traditional stalwarts of the economy like farming, oil and gas, mining and manufacturing will be all but completely automated over the course of the next century. By 2167, we can expect fewer than one per cent of Canadians to work in these areas, and those who do will be managing complex automated systems which perform the day to day work.
Professions with a highly social element will continue to be prevalent. Whether as nurses, home-care workers, nannies, teachers or therapists, Canadians will still be able to find work in areas that have a high human-touch element. Technology will soon be capable of replacing many of these jobs, but as social animals we will choose to prefer a person teaching young people or taking care of elderly parents. However, technology will continue to play an increasingly important role complementing those who work with people in the caring professions.
The vast majority of Canadians will not have an employer. They’ll be engaged in virtual forms of work routed through technological platforms and peer-to-peer channels, with no regard for geographical borders. Companies or individuals will send out micro-task requests that anyone in the world will be able to bid upon and execute instantaneously. Trust and performance ratings carried from task to task will grant high-performers the edge when it comes to competing against tens of thousands of others.
Commuting to work will be a relic of a bygone age. Virtual reality will enable those few Canadians who do have a consistent place of employment to do their work from their own home or wherever else happens to be convenient.
The supports that workers will have in 2167 will look completely different than today’s social architecture. Instead of large, cumbersome programs like employment insurance delivered through bureaucracies, workers will have immediate, digital access to services that they carry with them throughout their lives. Radical changes to taxation laws (think robot taxes and corporate taxes focused on extraordinary profits) at the national and international level generate sufficient revenue to fund social programs like a guaranteed annual income and life-long skills training allowances.
But, this is just one plausible future scenario. Another plausible future could see a Mad Max style descent into madness, with climate migrants battling over dwindling natural resources in a bleak hellscape. Yet another could see the advent of wide-scale Dickensian virtual factories, paying pennies per task to a desperate underclass.
How can we shape the type of future we want to see? Designing regulatory frameworks that promote competition, protect the public interest and pay workers fair wages is the defining challenge of the 21st century digital economy.
Success will hinge on concerted action by governments across the world. Governments that are currently struggling to come to grips with the rise of dominant digital platforms that don’t need to abide by the rules of any particular nation and have a knack for bending regulatory and tax frameworks to suit their preferences. Digital firms will only get more pervasive in the future, and the rise of super-monopolies that can dictate terms to suppliers and crowd out competitors is a serious threat to both consumer and worker interests.
Economic systems that privilege corporate interests are increasingly less likely to produce positive knock-on effects for workers where those workers are faceless commodities in another part of the world. When half of all workers could find their jobs automated by the middle of this century, the challenges of finding space at the table for workers gets more challenging still.
Canadians in 2167 will be engaged in many new forms of work we can’t even imagine today. But, starting today we can lay the groundwork for the fair treatment of workers in a digital economy that promises to unlock huge productivity and quality of life improvements. Our challenge is to ensure those gains are distributed equitably throughout society and not the spoils of a winner-take-all economy.

Robots still lack this basic human talent

Industrial robots have existed since the 1960s, when the first Unimate robotic arm was installed at a General Motors plant in the United States. Nearly six decades on, why don’t we have capable robots in our homes, beyond a few simple domestic gadgets?
One of the reasons is that the rules and conventions that govern our everyday lives are not as perfect as the rules that govern the process of, say, assembling a car.
Our everyday rules do not cover all possible scenarios. This makes them filled with inconsistencies that will render useless any robot that strictly follows them.
For robots to play a more involved role in our lives, such as personal caregivers or reliable home cooks and chefs, they will have to move away from following the simple rule-based operating procedures used by current robots.
Let’s improvise
One potential solution is to build robots in a way that when they face a tricky situation, they can improvise.
They would do this by using their past experiences from training, combined with some context of their current situation. This approach will most likely lead to them making very complex decisions.
But there is no guarantee that the robot will choose an action that follows the social norms. These actions may appear to us humans as cheating and sometimes rude or even unfair.
So how are we going to teach a robot to act in a courteous, ethical and honourable way? Is this even a reasonable expectation?
Can robots improvise?
Consider your washing machine. One morning you are late, and in a hurry you put your clothes into the machine and pick the wrong washing program. A machine that simply follows the programmed rules will happily run and potentially ruin your favourite clothes. How annoying.
For an artificial intelligence (AI) powered washing machine to avoid this situation, it would have to go through a complex decision process to improvise. The machine might use its cameras to detect the brands of the clothes you’re putting in the machine and then look them up online to find out the best washing program.
But you were in a hurry and you mixed multiple types of fabric together. This means that one washing program will be fine for some clothes but completely ruin others. A simple AI might decide to pause the machine and message you to ask for your decision.
Ah, but because you were in a hurry, you have left your phone behind. And the AI knows you need that washing done today so again, it must improvise.
Decision time
The next level of decision is for the AI to decide which of your clothes is the most sentimental to you, and save it. This is a much more complex process.
The AI now has to go through years of your recorded history to detect significant moments in your life and check if you were wearing any of the clothes you mindlessly put in the machine. But what is a significant moment and how can an AI detect it?
The AI-powered washing machine has now decided which washing program to run. It is for your heavily dirty white cotton t-shirt from your first year in college. It is using hot water and a long rinse.
This improvised decision may have ruined some of the other clothing but it resulted in you having your favourite t-shirt ready for you to wear that evening to a reunion with old friends (the AI had checked your diary).
How likely is all of this?
Robotics and AI researchers around the world are already demonstrating robots that can learn and improvise.
The robotic marimba player Shimon has played in a jazz band since 2015 to packed music venues. It listens to the music of the human band members as they improvise, and joins in.
Improvising musical robots are one thing, but cheating or deceitful robots are an altogether scarier idea.
In 2010 researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology demonstrated how one robot could deceive another robot by exploiting its vulnerabilities. The experiments involved the robots playing hide-and-seek. One robot would pretend it was in one location while secretly hiding in another.
The benefits of enabling robots and AI to cheat are studied as part of research in Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). Some of the results reported so far reveal that a cheating robot has more human-like attributes, that lead to a more natural interaction between it and the people with whom it interacts.
The philosophical debate
This topic of machine morality is deep and complex with no straightforward answers but it’s a recipe for a debate that emerges from the philosophy of morality.
This debate began with the science fiction literature from the mid-20th century – specifically Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics introduced in his 1942 short story Runaround. As robots and AI become more capable, this debate is becoming central to our lives.
Philosophical thinkers have already been asking questions about the challenge of moral machines and machines and moral reasoning with a message to the HRI community that we should:
[…] be careful what one wishes for … it may come true. Therefore, we should be very careful about what abilities we program into computers, and what responsibilities we assign to them. In the end, if the machines are coming, it is humans who are constructing them.
We are still asking questions today about the morality of machines, and whether we can teach AI and robots to understand about right and wrong.
We have a long way to go before we can build sophisticated robots with a moral compass.
The ongoing debate on the issue will not only help us build better robots but it will also make us reflect on our own ethical practices, hopefully leading us towards a better humanity.

Where America still rules: The idea that Trump is accelerating US decline is demonstrably wrong in vital respects

A new breed of American declinists argues that by alienating old allies, President Donald Trump is undermining his nation’s standing in the world and ceding the mantle of global leadership to China. These critics point repeatedly to a Pew survey showing that Trump is far less trusted than President Barack Obama was, and Trump’s America is viewed far less favourably than Obama’s was.
Opinions, however, are flighty. Though Trump’s style may erode US cultural and diplomatic influence while he is in office, it is less clear he represents a permanent threat to America’s measurable economic and financial strength.
Even before Trump, the declinists were cherry picking data to show China gaining a greater share of the global economy at America’s expense. While America’s current 24% share looks much diminished compared to 30% in 1990, it is about the same as the 26% share in 1980 when China’s modern renaissance began. The reality is that China is gaining global economic share at the expense mainly of Europe and Japan.
America is a tested economic superpower, having survived 23 recessions and a Great Depression since 1900. China remains untested, having suffered not one outright recession since its modern renaissance began around 1980. It has yet to be seen just how well China will weather its inevitable first test.
Meanwhile, America is as great a financial superpower as ever. Central banks looking for a safe place to park funds usually buy US assets, typically Treasury bills, which show up as dollars in their foreign exchange reserves. Since 1980, the dollar’s share of foreign exchange reserves has held steady at around 66%. This suggests that the world trusts the United States to pay its debts – and trusts it more than Europe, Japan and China. Serious money does not equate America with Trump.
The American declinists also ignore the state of its rivals. The euro was born 18 years ago, ambitious to become a reserve currency, but recurring fears of a eurozone breakup limit the world’s willingness to trust it. Aging Japan’s stagnation has long capped the yen’s popularity. And outsiders remain more wary of the renminbi, owing both to China’s debt troubles, and the threat Communist rulers pose to free flows of capital.
In contrast, confidence in the dollar reflects longstanding faith in American financial and political institutions, and the free flow of capital over its borders. When businesses in two countries – say India and Argentina – want to conduct a deal, they almost always arrange payment in dollars. Nearly 90% of bank-financed international transactions are conducted in dollars, a share that is close to all-time highs.
In some ways the reach of the dollar is expanding. When individuals and companies borrow from lenders in another country, they increasingly borrow in dollars, which account for 75% of these global flows, up from 60% just before the global financial crisis in 2008.
Most of the world now chooses to live in a dollar bloc. The share of countries that use the dollar as their main “anchor” – the currency against which they measure and stabilise the value of their own currency – has risen from 30% in 1950 and 50% in 1980 to 60% today.
Critically, there is no sign that the dollar’s status – as a reserve, an anchor, or the favoured currency for cross border transactions and loans – has declined since Trump took office. Even the weakening of the dollar under Trump provides more evidence of its dominant role: a weak dollar was a major driver of the global recovery in 2017, because in a dollar world, a cheaper dollar eases the cost of borrowing and helps other economies grow.
There is more at stake here than trust. Having the world’s favourite reserve currency is an economic advantage and a symbol of great power status, which is why China has been eager to establish the renminbi as a reserve currency. It has made no progress, however, and probably won’t as long as China’s financial markets remain largely closed, underdeveloped and subject to government meddling.
Many observers nonetheless assume that with China rising as an economic power, financial clout will follow. Perhaps, but the United States surpassed Britain as the world’s largest economy in the late 19th century, and the dollar did not fully displace British sterling as the leading reserve currency until World War II left British finances shattered. That doesn’t mean it will take World War III to end the dollar’s reign, but it will take a shock bigger than one unpredictable president.
Size alone won’t propel China to financial superpower status, either. For much of the period between 1450 and the late 1700s, China was the world’s leading economy but it never had the leading reserve currency because, then as now, its financial system lacked credibility.
No one doubts that China poses a growing challenge to the United States. But Trump’s critics may be overstating both the scope and inevitability of American decline, and the role one president can play in advancing it. To identify which nation the world really trusts in the long term, follow the money. And money still flows to the dollar — arguably the vote of confidence in America that matters most.

.New mantras for happy and successful life in the age of superintelligence
It is not only the change but ‘the rate of change’ also that is increasing as we are moving forward in the journey of human evolution. All will agree that the most prominent contribution has come due to the widespread use of Internet, digital and computational technologies. Due to the ever-increasing speed of processing of digital computation, solutions to the new problems are becoming feasible.
The things which were not feasible to be computed in a given amount of time has now moved in the feasible category. Most remarkable results have come in the field of space, astronomy, cognition, biotechnology and data science. Technology is changing at an astonishing speed. It is not as much about the amount and quality of data that we are able to collect but also about the extraction of hidden information in that data. New jobs for Data Scientist and Machine Learning Engineers (That were Non-existent five years ago) has become the highest paying jobs of today.
The new generation is surrounded by digital devices from the time they land out from their mother’s womb. The previous generation is not able to understand the cultural, social and behavioural changes that are happening and evolving continuously. With the onslaught of social media, digital currency, Internet of things and robotics; the paradigm of life in every sphere is changing. A big responsibility lies with the social scientists to understand this change and prepare the population for a smooth changeover.
One of the directions can be to give more space and decision power to these youngsters; so that they make mistakes early in life and are able to stand up quickly. Mistakes made after some maturity may be costlier to handle. The mantra is jump at the right time, fast-iterate, fail-cheap, listen to the feedback and succeed. There must be no time to be remorseful about failures, but these need to be taken as steps to success.
Next technology that has provided even more momentum to these changes is ‘deep learning’. It employs artificial intelligence, cognition skills, nanotechnology, computational skills and robotics to create new age products and applications for the society. Driverless cars, sophisticated medical robots who can act as surgeons, Computer reporters and robot warriors are few visible examples of this technology. Deep learning is upping the expectations in the filed if physics, chemistry, biology and social sciences. We now have the machine who can make new musical compositions for you which was thought to be a unique skill only available to god-gifted individuals.
Superintelligence is already knocking the doors of humankind. We will get one chance for claiming the supremacy from the intelligent machines. If we fail than the intelligent machines will rule over us.
Already there are many popular movies in this domain. In some of them, we conceptualize that at many of the alien planets, superintelligence may have already taken over the native habitats of that planet. We are already being governed by Super intelligent power. But, now that is taking avatar in visible form. It will be powered by self-learning machines who can reproduce and repair themselves.
The possible dimensions of the scenario are exponential and may be exciting or frightening or amazing. It may not be long that we as a human race, need to sit and act to deal with this situation. It will be up to the intellectual leadership of the planet that we strategize to be friendly or adversary. The Earlier we act, the better we are.
So, if I ask you what is the most important skill to be learned today?
Well it is “Learn to self-learn and fast-learn”. This will not be easy with many individuals who will not have the requisite kind of mindset and attitude to transform themselves into the realities of this new world. It will also not be easy to inculcate this skill by the educational institutions who are resistant to changing themselves for this new world order. “Fast and Quick Learn” is a complete philosophy and requires indulgence, consistent motivation and perseverance to be an actual demonstrator of this skill.
Parents, teachers, students, entrepreneurs, institutions need to benchmark and evaluate themselves for these three things. It may be too late if you miss this train. Be ready for the consequences.

Canada Losing Control of Its Trade Agenda

The Trump era has seen a series of unsettling disruptions to the international trade system fostered by American leadership since 1945. Canada now faces challenging decisions on three vital trade files.
The first — renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement — is central, governing trade and investment with the U.S., Canada’s biggest trade partner. The second — finalizing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) without the United States — puts trade with Japan and Asia in play. The third — sorting through the trade agreement with Europe (CETA) as the U.K. withdraws from the European Union — has the potential to affect bilateral deals with the U.S. As the poet John Milton observed, when “chaos umpire sits … chance governs all.”
The recent trade meetings in Da Nang, Vietnam on the revived TPP Mark II, coinciding with the Asia Pacific Economic Summit, were a turning point for Canada — and arguably a serious misstep with long-term consequences. To the Canadian public, the niceties of trade negotiations are a long way from everyday concerns, but insiders understand that Canada has a lot at stake with the TPP. Canada’s missteps in Da Nang intensely angered the Japanese delegation and their political, diplomatic and industry network in Tokyo.
TPP started as an American initiative to ‘pivot to Asia’; it originally excluded Japan and Canada. Once both countries became participants, getting all 12 nations to reach a successful conclusion was an amazing feat. The TPP pact included new chapters avoided in other negotiations and is a benchmark for other potential deals, such as Europe-Japan, the U.K.-Europe post-Brexit, the U.K.-U.S. and Japan-U.S.
No country has promoted TPP as much as Japan, and few political leaders have pressed so hard to cultivate good relations with President Donald Trump as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The reasons why are not mysterious: nuclear tests by North Korea, Chinese military initiatives in the South China Seas and the need to secure Japan’s military alliance with the United States. As part of his political legacy, Abe prioritizes the TPP as an effort to rejuvenate the economy and reform dated institutional practices, the so-called Third Arrow of what has been dubbed “Abenomics”. His government wants to see Japan globally relevant and not marginalized within the Asia region by a forceful China.
By not fully endorsing the trade deal in Vietnam, Canada angered the TPP partners — especially the Japanese, who fully understand that they can’t afford to let their principal ally, the U.S., see the initiative fall by the wayside.
In Asia, these political and trade machinations have another player — China. TPP was originally conceived by the Americas as a tool to contain China — or at least to put U.S. values, governance and the rule of law at the center of new trade rules for the 21st century. President Donald Trump, his cabinet and key advisers see China as the bête noire of trade policy, a predatory nation with mercantile instincts and government-sanctioned actions that permit huge trade deficits that account for much of the decay of America’s manufacturing heartland. “We have trade deficits with China that are through the roof,” Trump has said. “They’re so big and so bad that it’s embarrassing saying what the number is.” In fact, the trade deficit — $274 billion for the for the first nine months of 2017 — includes huge imports for American retailers like Walmart, a company which accounts for a huge share of China’s exports to the U.S. on its own.
China — no slouch when it comes to the game of geopolitics — has its own trade-infrastructure strategy, the ‘Silk Road’ project, otherwise known as China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). The project is stunning in its geographic reach and includes both maritime and land corridors across most of the Eurasian continent, from Beijing to Rotterdam. BRI also includes a new infrastructure development bank. Japan’s focus on TPP11 without the U.S. is seen as an interim project, along with the Asia-African Growth Corridor with India, a Japan-EU trade agreement and future bilateral deals with APEC countries.
What do the events in Vietnam mean for Canada’s future trade policies? To be fair, few countries have so many vital trade deals being negotiated simultaneously as Canada does. The issues involve domestic politics (e.g. the dairy and auto sectors) and affect other files, such as the Paris climate accord, a potential seat on the UN Security Council and, as always, good relations with the White House.
Canada has a history of mobilizing internal resources — politically, diplomatically and provincially — to negotiate trade deals, both within the WTO framework, the bilateral FTA with the Americans, and even the 1965 Auto Pact.
Today, few fully appreciate the extent of the Mulroney initiatives in the 1985-1989 trade negotiations with the U.S., such as establishing a cabinet trade committee chaired by the finance minister, allowing the trade negotiating team to have private meetings with political advisers to test the fallout from potential clauses and chapters, and designing a 15-sector strategy advisory committee on key industrial areas. Equally important was the personal connection between Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, with each man knowing the other’s preoccupations and the domestic fallout of a failure to secure a deal.
Today, with three pivotal trade deals in play, has Canada — despite consultations with advisory bodies and selected lobby groups, narrowed the key voices (mostly political) that shape long term trade policy? The events in Vietnam say, unequivocally, that the answer is ‘yes’.
This was the first misstep by Canada, and the consequences have been serious. Trumpism hasn’t been good news for global trade and global trade agreements. All leading trading nations are scrambling to advance their trade agendas, without or without the U.S., including through bilateral deals with the U.S. administration. In Vietnam, with sundry excuses and needless provocation, Canada managed to intensely annoy the Japanese — particularly Prime Minister Abe — and irritate most of the other TPP partners, with Australia being the most outspoken.
In this trade bazaar, trade negotiators receive a mandate from their political masters to proceed not only with a general mandate, but with specific attention to certain chapters that are particularly sensitive at home, or are contentious for other partners. The actual negotiations are typically surprise-free, with contentious issues noted in brackets and often left to be solved at the end when less contentious questions have been settled. Of all advanced countries, no nation does his homework as well as Japan, and no leader has been so fully engaged as PM Abe.
That is why Canada’s actions came as a surprise, why the announcement of an accepted agreement was postponed, and why Canada’s lukewarm support, at best, angered both Japan and other TPP partners, behind the scenes as well as in the media.
The federal government needs to think like a grandmaster chess player, seven to eight steps ahead of its opponents. That means homework, preparation and a lack of surprises. In these uncertain times, the best-case trade strategy is a package with Europe, a rejuvenated NAFTA and TPP11, with China (and potentially India) waiting in the wings.
The worst case is stark, but not unlikely: a CETA deal in turmoil with Brexit, with Canada on the sidelines, and the U.K. pushing hard for a bilateral with the Americans. In Asia, a TPP may be agreed to sometime in 2018, but Japan also is pushing hard for a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. — the first for the Trump administration — with a high probability of success.
Another congressional failure may push the Trump administration to enact by executive order a withdrawal from NAFTA. At best, chances of a successful NAFTA Mark II round are 50-50. No one is better informed on this cycle of events than Japan, with its post-war preoccupation with cultivating excellent military, diplomatic, academic and business relations with the U.S.
At this stage, two questions are central: does the government know how deep a hole its actions have placed Canada in, and does it have a strategy to stop digging and start climbing? Canadians of all political stripes are wondering if trade policy is a function of domestic wedge politics or a serious play for future jobs, two-way trade and investment. Canada’s opportunity to win is at stake.

 

The US Witnessing an Identical Teaching in Majority of Forward-thinking Colleges

A recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,408 technology and education professionals suggested that the most valuable skills in the future will be those that machines can’t yet easily replicate, like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability and collaboration. In short, people need to learn how to learn, because the only hedge against a fast-changing world is the ability to think, adapt and collaborate well.
But many American college students may not be learning them at all. In the 2011 book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Jarip Roksa chronicled how few American students really improved cognitively–and learned to learn–during their undergraduate education. Few bachelor’s programs require sufficient amounts of the reading, writing, and discourse needed to develop critical thinking skills. In fact, forty percent of American undergraduates now major in business and management-related subjects, reading mainly textbooks and short articles, and rarely writing a paper longer than three pages. Further, the social bonds and skills formed in college today often center on extracurriculars that have little connection to cognitive development and collaborative problem-solving.
But perhaps instead of reinventing higher education, we can give students what they need for the future by returning to the roots of liberal arts. Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon.
The Program
Many fine schools in the US organize classes and curriculum around Western classics, and St. John’s two campuses look much like hundreds of small colleges across America. So what makes St. John’s unique? First, as David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote, the college has the “courage to be distinct” amid a marketplace of more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the US. A big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.
In contrast to some liberal arts stalwarts like Brown or Wesleyan that allow students to choose from a vast array of classes with few restrictions, St. John’s offers only the Program; it’s prix fixe is a higher education world of a la carte. Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors.
The Great Books, or “texts” as they are referred to at St. John’s, flow largely in chronological order. Starting with the Greeks and working through the 20th century including some “recent” science readings from the 1950s and 1960s, the curriculum is rarely altered. The college adds only what it believes are seminal works, and often it takes decades to reach consensus on what may be worthy of inclusion. Juniors and seniors have “electives” and can suggest texts for a class or two. The sequencing of classes is very important to the St. John’s method, with knowledge building over the semesters and years.
Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text. Those possibilities are then discussed and debated, and discarded when weak or specious, leaving better interpretations space to surface. St. John’s is not a cloister, and of course students and faculty are well aware of the history and social settings of their studies. But an attempt is made to focus on the texts themselves, and understand their content, meaning and merit deeply through debate. This is what creates independent thinking.
Sure, compared to the telephone book size course catalogs most colleges and universities offer in the 21st century, St. John’s curriculum may seem limited. But “Johnnies,” as St. John’s students call themselves, and faculty would argue just the opposite. This curriculum is carefully designed not only to build knowledge, but also to understand how knowledge is ultimately created; it is teaching students how to learn. In this respect, St. John’s students de facto major in epistemology. And for those of us who never studied Ancient Greek (a St. John’s requirement for two years), epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge, or the investigation of what distinguishes substantiated and supportable belief from mere opinion. Now that sounds like it could come in handy these days.
We live in an age when 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day, with much being intentionally misleading, “fake” or just plain wrong. What could be more valuable than developing an intellectual filter, cultivating the capacity to know what is important to know, distilling enormous amounts of information to form a rational position, or knowing how to listen and respond to—or perhaps integrate—someone else’s point of view? In this vein, St. John’s uses traditional texts taught in ancient methods to impart skills that have never been more crucial.
The Program’s philosophy and practice
You will not find 100-person lectures, teaching assistants or multiple-choice tests at St. John’s. Instead classes are led by “Tutors” who guide students through Socratic inquiry (and yes, students do read about the Socratic practice during freshman year in Plato’s Theaetetus). Despite its reputation as a sadistic exercise in student humiliation, the Socratic method is actually an interactive form of intellectual sandpapering that smooths out hypotheses and eliminates weak ideas through group discourse. Tutors lead St. John’s discussions but rarely dominate; they are more like conversation facilitators, believing that everyone in class is a teacher, everyone a learner. And you won’t find Johnnies texting or surfing social media while in class; there is no place to hide in classrooms that range from small (seminars, 20 students led by two tutors) to smaller (tutorials, 10 to 15 students, one tutor) to smallest (preceptorials, 3 to 8 students, one tutor).
There is a formality in a St. John’s classroom—an un-ironic seriousness—that feels out of another era. Students and Tutors address each other by “Mr.” or “Ms.” (or the gender-inclusive honorific of choice). Classrooms have a retro feel, with rectangular seminar tables and blackboards on surrounding walls, and science labs filled with analog instruments, wood and glass cabinets, old school beakers and test tubes.
You have to observe a few St. John’s classes to get a sense of what’s happening between and among the students and Tutors. Discussions are often free-flowing, with students thinking out loud and talking to the ceiling; you can almost hear the gears turning in their brains. There are many “a-ha” moments in a St. John’s classroom, sometimes coaxed out by Tutors in Socratic fashion. But often they are triggered by students theorizing and responding among themselves.
In one class students were covering Ptolemy, the second century mathematician. Ptolemy believed that all the celestial bodies and sun revolved around the earth in a circle, and based all his mathematical calculations on this perspective. Students were buzzing at the blackboard, working with a geometry sphere around the table, talking about diameters, meridians and equators, tilts, and horizons. Keep in mind this is all prep for what will be studied in a few months, when these Johnnies will learn that it would be another 1400 years before Copernicus proved Ptolemy’s calculations correct but his conclusion wrong: the earth and planets actually revolve around the sun. These same students will eventually feel the excitement learning of Kepler’s conclusion 150 years later, that Copernicus was also right and wrong: yes, the earth and planets revolved around the sun—but in an elliptical, not circular, orbit. This curricular layering is central to the St. John’s Program. Later texts respond to and build upon previous texts. In essence, students intellectually follow modern thought as it has been built over the last 2000+ years instead of just memorizing the end results.
The cognitive rigor, immersion, and passion so present at St. John’s are rare on American campuses these days. Johnnies read roughly 100-150 books during their four years and write 25 to 30 papers that are more than 10 pages long. Seniors choose a writer or single text and do a deep dive thesis that typically runs 40-50 pages. Here are a few of the senior capstone topics for the class of 2017: 19th century English scientist Michael Faraday’s heuristic description of electromagnetic phenomena; 17th-century mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s treatment of curvature in what’s called the “chain line” problem; the use of Aristotelian terminology by 20th century physicist Werner Heisenberg in describing quantum mechanics; and the possible revision of “space” from Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason into a plurality of “spaces.” Few college-educated outsiders may have a clue what any of these papers are about, but they are not atypical of what’s being studied, discussed, and written about at St. John’s.
After class
Many mainstream college students downshift when the classroom bell rings and don’t revisit course material until they cram for finals. Not at St. John’s. Hallways and dorms are brimming with chatter about Dante, Schubert, Freud, and Watson and Crick. Since everyone takes the same courses, freshman immediately can strike up a cafeteria conversation with a sophomore or senior who’s already taken the class. The Program is what binds the St. John’s community, and what also binds alumni: everybody has studied the same texts, whether they graduated in 1962 or 2015.
Johnnies like to have fun, too, but in a quaint, quirky Big Bang Theory kind of way. Dancing is favorite pastime at St. John’s, but as the college website warns: “Monthly waltz and swing parties are serious business at St. John’s. The year begins with the Convocation Waltz, where students decorate the quad with lights and dance all night. Fortunately, the Waltz Committee offers emergency dance lessons for the heretofore unexperienced.” Many of the students wear fancy dresses or suits. It’s not exactly Undergrads Gone Wild.
Sports are important at St. John’s too—if you consider croquet a sport. Yes, croquet. It’s one of only four NCAA teams St. John’s fields (including sailing, fencing and rowing). About 35 years ago, St. John’s and the Naval Academy organized the Annapolis Cup, the first NCAA croquet match, which has grown into one of the sport’s great events. The Johnnies have beaten the crosstown rival Midshipmen 28 out of 35 times (this year narrowly 3-2 in the rain). The Cup routinely brings 8000 people to St. John’s classic campus, with Midshipmen wearing traditional croquet whites while the Johnnies don some creative costumes. Johnny spectators often wear Gatsby-era clothes and a good time, as they say, is had by all.
The Santa Fe campus is purportedly more laid back than Annapolis and offers outdoorsy-types 250-acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Students there hike, bike, and tend to get off campus more than their Maryland counterparts. Walking on either campus, you hardly see any Johnnies glued to their phones; this is so unusual compared with most campuses, you may wonder if cell and WiFi signals have been blocked (they haven’t). Solitary reflection is encouraged and indulged at St. John’s. You’ll often see students sitting alone under a tree, on a bench, lying on the grass. They may be thinking big thoughts or just relaxing; either way it evidences a culture of contemplation rarely witnessed among today’s college students.
Warning label
Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors.
Geek. Nerd. Dork. These words come to mind when thinking about what kind of high schooler would choose St. John’s from among the myriad colleges available. But not only straight-A achievers choose the Program (though there are plenty of them at St. John’s). Many Johnnies were outsiders who didn’t necessarily fit into traditional high school cultures, nor did particularly well academically by typical high school metrics. There are a decent number of legacy students with parents or grandparents who’ve attended. Regardless of how they got there, successful Johnnies all share a sincere love of learning and a willingness to think really hard.
Most graduating students told me they had found their lost tribe at St. John’s, but a not-insignificant number of students (about 15%) wind up leaving after the freshman year. Some find the curriculum too rigid and want to explore different things. Some complain of cabin fever after a year or two; there’s only 80 to 125 students per graduating class in Santa Fe and Annapolis, and you get to know everyone–students, faculty, staff–pretty quickly. Because of the staged coursework, students from each campus can escape for a semester or two on the other campus without interrupting the Program. But that same curriculum makes things like study abroad very difficult without taking off a full year from St. John’s—adding time and expense to an already costly bachelor’s degree. There are no fraternities (though plenty of parties); no rah-rah football games (unless you walk to the nearby Naval Academy in Annapolis or drive to Albuquerque from Santa Fe); no food courts or swanky dorms. But the Johnnies who stay express heartfelt pleasure and pride in the idiosyncrasies of St. John’s.
The Program vs. programming?
While it’s fair to say most liberal arts students live in a “bubble” cut off from reality, St. John’s is unapologetic about, and in fact encourages, a four-year respite from the pressures and distractions of the outside world. The college focuses on the intellectual growth of students while they attend, not necessarily on what comes after graduation. Although there is little vocational discussion and modest career guidance at the school, Johnnies seem to do just fine after graduation. About two-thirds eventually go on for further degrees—including law school (a favorite), master’s and doctoral programs (the school produces more students who go on to earn PhDs per capita than almost any other US college), and some to medical and business schools.
Perhaps because of the independent thinking cultivated by the Program, many Johnnies wind-up with interesting life paths. In my research of St. John’s alumni I discovered an editorial board member at a major New York newspaper; a research psychiatrist investigating the neurochemistry of drug addiction; several celebrated winemakers; and an assistant district attorney in Alaska.
Josh Rogers, Annapolis class of 1998, told me St. John’s boosted his “why not me?” personality trait, and explained how it freed him to believe he could think up novel ideas like those that he read about. And he did. Within a few years of graduating St. John’s, Rogers – with no formal coding or computer training—filed 16 patentable applications embedded in many popular websites. He then founded his own financial services company with more than 150 employees.
A fourth-generation portrait painter, 1992 alumna Anastasia Egeli has built a successful career connecting with clients through talking. “A St. John’s education focuses on the importance of dialogue and ideas…I’ve found myself painting a historian and discussing the Federalist papers. During my sittings with private equity managers, we examined whether serving in a political office was the responsibility of a man who had benefited so much from that society.”
Ted Merz, an alumnus from the late 1980’s, was one of the first fifteen employees at Bloomberg News. Starting there in 1990, Merz went on to oversee news operations in the Americas before moving into the Product division where he works on strategic projects ranging from building news analytics to piping Twitter into Wall Street trading platforms. “Not a day goes by, “Merz told me, “that I don’t rely on the thought processes I developed at St. John’s.”
The creative and critical thinking that develops in the St. John’s bubble may be just what the future will require. While most college students have been rushing to study computer science and other technical skills for better employment outcomes, these fields may be less lucrative over time with machine learning and artificial intelligence.
As the vociferous Shark Tank host and entrepreneur Marc Cuban has recently observed about business careers: “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data. [You need] someone who is more of a freer thinker.”
Even further afield, recently, former Google and Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee, an expert in AI, told Quartz that, “Given AI is more objective, analytical, data driven, maybe it’s time for some of us to switch to the humanities, liberal arts, and beauty.”
The crossroads
Like other US liberal arts colleges since the Great Recession, St. John’s has been dealing with two common headwinds: rising costs and declining traditional student enrollment. The college has a relatively low endowment per capita, making it tuition dependent like many small schools. While the sticker price of St. John’s seems expensive (about $50,000 per annum just for tuition), the school has been extremely generous with financial aid, bringing the effective cost down more than 50% (Note: An earlier version of this article said the reduction was 30-40%.) Still, some may question whether a St. John’s degree is worth it. To paraphrase Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, why waste $200,000 on an education you could get for $1.50 in late fees at the public library? True. Every text studied at St. John’s can be found at a public library. But that’s missing the point. As one alumni, Columbia Law School professor Shawn Watts, said, “St. John’s is less about the books than the process and the community. It trains your mind and frees it at the same time. This allows you to truly follow your own passions and interest in life without the subconscious impositions and prodding of our wired world.” In the face of a very uncertain future, a St. John’s education may be money very well spent.
And St. John’s is on the move, preparing for the next 300 years. In the last 18 months the college hired new presidents at each campus. With fresh leadership in place, the school is gearing-up for a major $250 million capital campaign. St. John’s is strengthening its enrollment pipeline, too. New admission director Ben Baum and his team have boosted applications to more than 1100 this year (up 35% from post-recession lows), with some 250 freshman expected to enroll in Annapolis and Sante Fe this fall. A seasoned admissions professional, Baum was drawn to the school in 2015 because of its unique educational offering. “Most colleges and universities struggle for a special identity in the crowded higher education marketplace,” he says, “That’s not an issue with St. John’s.”
The college offers a summer program for high school juniors that has been a good source of recruits, as has the international marketplace. The growing demand around the world for liberal arts education, as I’ve recently chronicled, has boosted overseas applications to St. John’s unique program. In recent years, between 20-25% of classes have been filled by international students (often paying full tuition), adding a nice mix of cultural and racial diversity to the student body.
Then there is the issue of rankings. For years, St. John’s resisted even filling out survey data requested by US News and World Reports. Culturally, some faculty and staff were (and still are) incensed by the rankings fetish that has gripped most of higher education. But determined to continue its mission into the future without sacrificing the curriculum and culture that makes it unique, St. John’s realized it needed to boost its profile and applications. Ranking surveys were filled. The number of admission application essays was reduced. US News now ranks St. John’s as the 53rd best national liberal arts college. In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country. Application numbers are rising and acceptance rates falling, all of which contribute to positive ratings momentum.
The future
Life in the 21st century is remarkably different than the late 20th century; it has been “disrupted,” to borrow an overused word from Silicon Valley, on many levels in the blink of an eye. A college degree is an indisputable asset in today’s world, but the uncertain and rapidly changing job market raises questions about whether college is really worth the investment of four years and a lot of money. But perhaps that question is too broad. Maybe we should be asking not whether college will adequately educate tomorrow’s citizens, but what kind of college will prepare them for an unimagined and even unimaginable future. St. John’s is facing the unknown by holding steady with the same approach to intellectual development, discourse, collaboration and rigor it has pursued for over 80 years. Maybe the “old school” way will produce the kind of innovative thinkers we will need in the brave new world.

Circadian Clock of Plants Impacts Human Health

At dusk, the leaves of the tamarind tree close, waiting for another dawn. Androsthenes, a ship captain serving under Alexander the Great, made the first written account of these leaf movements in the fourth century B.C.
It took centuries longer to discover that he was describing the effects of the circadian clock. This internal time-sensing mechanism allows many living organisms to keep track of time and coordinate their behaviors along 24-hour cycles. It follows the regular day/night and seasonal cycles of Earth’s daily rotation. Circadian research has advanced so far that the 2017 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded for the groundbreaking work that elucidated the molecular basis underlying circadian rhythms.
Biologists are studying the circadian clocks in plants for insights into how they affect the health and well-being of all life on Earth. As researchers continue to untangle more about how these clocks work – including how they influence interactions between hosts and their invading pathogens and pests – new forms of specially timed precision medicine could be on the horizon.
Our hidden pacemaker
Organisms from all three domains of life possess an amazing diversity of circadian rhythms. Seemingly simple Cyanobacteria alternate photosynthetic activity between day and night. The fungus Neurospora crassa produces spores every morning just before dawn. Migratory monarch butterflies use a delicate sun compass in their annual migration. Almost every aspect of human activity is influenced by the circadian clock – you can easily see this in yourself if you fly across time zones or engage in shift work.
The driving force behind circadian rhythms is what scientists call the circadian clock’s central oscillator, an elaborate network of genes that turn each other’s activity on and off. Together, they form complex feedback loops that accurately calibrate time.
Although individual clock genes are not always the same across domains of life, the feedback mechanism of the central oscillator is. This mechanism acts as a switch to synchronize an organism’s daily activities with day and night fluctuations and other environmental changes. Such amazing balancing acts reflect organisms’ abilities to anticipate changing environment throughout the day.
Precise timekeeping and health
A well-calibrated circadian clock is critical for growth and fitness, which is why misalignment of the circadian clock with environmental cues causes diverse and far-reaching health issues. Some human diseases, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and some psychiatric disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, are likely linked to circadian clocks being out of sync with the environment.
Increasing evidence also links the circadian clock to plant health. In particular, plant scientists have shown that a properly tuned circadian clock is important for plant disease resistance to arrays of pathogens and pests. Although plants do not produce antibodies or use specialized immune cells to ward off invaders, some aspects of their immune system are similar to ours. Because of how easy it is to grow and genetically manipulate them, some plants, like Arabidopsis, serve as ideal systems to investigate how the circadian clock influences the outcome of diseases in plants once infected.
Plant-pathogen interactions around the clock
Plants, being immobile, must strategically allocate their limited energy and resources when faced with pathogens and pests. They have the sophisticated ability to time their defense, which allows them to anticipate likely attacks before they occur and modulate defense responses to real attackers.
The forefront of plant defense is on the surface. Physical features like trichomes, little hairs that stick out, protectively cover a plant, and wax coatings deter invaders from clinging onto the surface. The plant surface also has numerous mouth-like pores called stomata. Normally, stomata rhythmically open in the day and close at night, a process regulated by the circadian clock in anticipation of light and humidity changes. While this process is important for photosynthesis and water exchange, opening stomata can be used by some pathogens as portals to access nutrients and space inside the plant tissue and closing stomata restrict pathogen invasion.
Beyond frontline physical barriers, plants have evolved complex surveillance systems to detect pathogens and pests as intruders. When cell surface receptors recognize a pathogen, the plant immediately closes its stomata at the invasion site. Dysfunctional circadian clocks impair stomatal closure, resulting in more severe disease.
Further pathogen recognition sends alert signals deep into the plant tissue, activating an arsenal of defense responses, including reprogramming of gene expression, production of antimicrobial compounds and enhancement of defense signaling. Even in the absence of pathogens, many of these responses show low but rhythmic changes that are influenced by the circadian clock. When a real attack arrives, the plants’ daily rehearsal of their defense systems ensures a strong and concerted timely defense. Plants with misaligned clocks succumb to the attack.
One excellent example of a plant timing its defense comes from Xinnian Dong’s group at Duke University. Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis is a pathogen that disseminates its virulent spores in the morning and causes disease in Arabidopsis plants. Dong’s group elegantly showed that Arabidopsis anticipates this attack by expressing a set of defense genes at dawn that gives resistance against the pathogen. When the researchers disrupted the Arabidopsiscircadian clock, it abolished this morning defense and made the plant more susceptible.
Plants also rely on timely defense to fight off insects. For instance, cabbage loopers have peak feeding activity before dusk. Beautiful work by Janet Braam’s group at Rice University showed that Arabidopsis produces the defense signaling hormone jasmonic acid with a peak at noon in anticipation of this attack. When the insects actually strike, the circadian clock boosts this noon defense, producing more jasmonic acid to inhibit insect feeding.
Do clocks dance in pairs?
As seen from these examples, pathogens and pests have their own circadian clocks and use them to determine the best time to be active. How does this ability affect their invasions of hosts? So far, researchers aren’t sure whether pathogen and pest clocks are coordinated to that of the host. If they are, their how in sync they are could determine the outcome of their interactions.
Current evidence indicates that some eukaryotic microbes, such as Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis and Botrytis cinerea, are able to manipulate the Arabidopsis circadian clock. Even prokaryotic pathogens, like Pseudomonas syringae, in spite of lacking a canonical central oscillator, can interfere with plant clocks in various ways.
In humans and mice, some populations of gut microbiota oscillate daily, depending on the host circadian clock. Interestingly, gut microbiota are capable of reprogramming the host clock. How does this transkingdom communication occur? How can it influence the outcome of host and microbe interactions? Research in this area represents a fascinating and unexplored level of host-invader dynamics.
The clock as healer and helper
The ability to integrate time cues with development and responses to environmental assaults is an evolutionary adaptation. Plants have taught biologists much about circadian rhythms and their role in modulating everything from development to defense.
Clock research has opened an opportunity to apply this knowledge to other systems, including humans. How can we modify the daily cycling of certain defense features to enhance immunity without causing developmental stress? What times of day are we most susceptible to certain pathogens? What are the most invasive times of day for various pathogens and pests?
Answers to questions like these will help unravel host-pathogen/pest interactions, not just in plants but also in people. Ultimately, this knowledge could contribute to the design of precision medicines that are tailored to boost timely defense in individual people to fight against various pathogens and pests. In addition, our understanding of plant disease resistance will aid agricultural control of pathogens and pests, mitigating the global challenge of crop loss.
Ongoing research continues to reveal how the influence of circadian rhythms extends as boundlessly as the sun’s rays.

 

Fake Moral Panic over Abortion

The federal government has announced that it is reforming the regulations through which employers hire students for the Canada Summer Jobs program. It’s an effort to prevent government financial support from going to groups that oppose abortion rights and LGBTQ2 equality, and it comes after reports that various hardline anti-abortion groups have long been beneficiaries of the program.
Organizations applying for government support will now have to sign a statement guaranteeing that they support human rights in Canada. “To be eligible,” the new policy states, “applicants will have to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.”
The program itself — designed to give workplace experience and training to students aged 15 to 30 in non-profits, the public sector and small businesses — is well worth preserving. MPs decide on funding on an individual riding basis; most of the money is allocated to non-political groups. But there have been exceptions to that rule: more than $3 million has been channelled to anti-abortion organizations in the past five years. Most of that money (but not all of it) came from Conservative MPs’ offices.
One of the groups that has been particularly successful in gaining funding through the program is the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. This ground was responsible for the No2Trudeau campaign — which sent hundreds of thousands of flyers to Canadian homes containing deeply disturbing, bloody and graphic images of mangled fetal body parts.
Parents complained that their small children often saw the flyers first and were sometimes traumatized. Their protests were ignored. This militant organization also holds public displays in which it juxtaposes abortion images with those of the Holocaust and the lynching of African-Americans. It describes abortion as genocide.
The group’s communications director, Jonathon Van Maren, is a columnist for Lifesite News, which stated recently that Donald Trump’s opponents were “satanic” and is obsessed with sinister cabals and dark conspiracy theories.
It’s all rather simple. Nobody — thank goodness — is trying to prevent people from holding anti-abortion views and campaigning against abortion rights.
It’s also morbidly concerned with what it sees as the sinister social and political influence of homosexuality. Van Maren himself wrote that “LGBT activists are already hard at work rooting out heretics in politics, media, and academia.” He is now attacking the government over these changes to the summer jobs program, which should come as no surprise.
He wasn’t alone. Many Conservatives joined the pile-on. “What the Liberals are doing here is terrifying,” MP Candice Bergen tweeted. “No tax payers $ if you don’t believe/act the way the government dictates. Sounds more like China than Canada. Thought/ belief control by the State, in its worst form. What’s next for these organizations? Charitable status denied?”
Communist China routinely employs torture, ignores human rights and has executed more people than the rest of the world combined. When I respectfully challenged Ms. Bergen on Twitter over what she said, she refused to withdraw her comparison and labelled me an extremist.
Critics also have claimed that this is all an attack on religion. That’s disingenuous, to say the least. The new policy states that applicants’ “core mandate” must “respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”
In other words, while abortion rights are mentioned, so is freedom of religion. The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and the other anti-abortion outfits that have received public financial support through this program are indeed mostly composed of ultra-conservative Christians — but the groups themselves are not specifically religious, and are not faith-based charities serving the needy. Countless religious people (myself included) are liberal in their views about life and sexuality and have nothing in common with the extreme anti-abortion culture.
In fact it’s all rather simple. Nobody — thank goodness — is trying to prevent people from holding anti-abortion views and campaigning against abortion rights. This is not China, Ms. Bergen.
What the government is suggesting is that it’s absurd for the public to directly fund and support groups that oppose the laws followed and the values held by the vast majority of Canadians. A very modest, very Canadian idea indeed.

 

Sand- That is Possibly Hurtling the World to a Major Crisis

When people picture sand spread across idyllic beaches and endless deserts, they understandably think of it as an infinite resource. But as we discuss in a just-published perspective in the journal Science, over-exploitation of global supplies of sand is damaging the environment, endangering communities, causing shortages and promoting violent conflict.
Skyrocketing demand, combined with unfettered mining to meet it, is creating the perfect recipe for shortages. Plentiful evidence strongly suggests that sand is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions. For example, in Vietnam domestic demand for sand exceeds the country’s total reserves. If this mismatch continues, the country may run out of construction sand by 2020, according to recent statements from the country’s Ministry of Construction.
This problem is rarely mentioned in scientific discussions and has not been systemically studied. Media attention drew us to this issue. While scientists are making a great effort to quantify how infrastructure systems such as roads and buildings affect the habitats that surround them, the impacts of extracting construction minerals such as sand and gravel to build those structures have been overlooked. Two years ago we created a working group designed to provide an integrated perspective on global sand use.
In our view, it is essential to understand what happens at the places where sand is mined, where it is used and many impacted points in between in order to craft workable policies. We are analyzing those questions through a systems integration approach that allows us to better understand socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances and time. Based on what we have already learned, we believe it is time to develop international conventions to regulate sand mining, use and trade.
Skyrocketing demand
Sand and gravel are now the most-extracted materials in the world, exceeding fossil fuels and biomass (measured by weight). Sand is a key ingredient for concrete, roads, glass and electronics. Massive amounts of sand are mined for land reclamation projects, shale gas extraction and beach renourishment programs. Recent floods in Houston, India, Nepal and Bangladesh will add to growing global demand for sand.
In 2010, nations mined about 11 billion tonnes of sand just for construction. Extraction rates were highest in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Europe and North America. In the United States alone, production and use of construction sand and gravel was valued at US$8.9 billion in 2016, and production has increased by 24 percent in the past five years.
Moreover, we have found that these numbers grossly underestimate global sand extraction and use. According to government agencies, uneven record-keeping in many countries may hide real extraction rates. Official statistics widely underreport sand use and typically do not include nonconstruction purposes such as hydraulic fracturing and beach nourishment.
Sand traditionally has been a local product. However, regional shortages and sand mining bans in some countries are turning it into a globalized commodity. Its international trade value has skyrocketed, increasing almost sixfold in the last 25 years.
Profits from sand mining frequently spur profiteering. In response to rampant violence stemming from competition for sand, the government of Hong Kong established a state monopoly over sand mining and trade in the early 1900s that lasted until 1981.
Today organized crime groups in India, Italy and elsewhere conduct illegal trade in soil and sand. Singapore’s high-volume sand imports have drawn it into disputes with Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.
Sand mining harms humans and the environment
The negative consequences of overexploiting sand are felt in poorer regions where sand is mined. Extensive sand extraction physically alters rivers and coastal ecosystems, increases suspended sediments and causes erosion.
Research shows that sand mining operations are affecting numerous animal species, including fish, dolphins, crustaceans and crocodiles. For example, the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) – a critically endangered crocodile found in Asian river systems – is increasingly threatened by sand mining, which destroys or erodes sand banks where the animals bask.
Sand mining also has serious impacts on people’s livelihoods. Beaches and wetlands buffer coastal communities against surging seas. Increased erosion resulting from extensive mining makes these communities more vulnerable to floods and storm surges.
A recent report by the Water Integrity Network found that sand mining exacerbated the impacts of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka. In the Mekong Delta, sand mining is reducing sediment supplies as drastically as dam construction, threatening the sustainability of the delta. It also is probably enhancing saltwater intrusion during the dry season, which threatens local communities’ water and food security.
Potential health impacts from sand mining are poorly characterized but deserve further study. Extraction activities create new standing pools of water that can become breeding sites for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The pools may also play an important role in the spread of emerging diseases such as Buruli ulcer in West Africa, a bacterial skin infection.
Preventing a tragedy of the sand commons
Media coverage of this issue is growing, thanks to work by organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme, but the scale of the problem is not widely appreciated. Despite huge demand, sand sustainability is rarely addressed in scientific research and policy forums.
The complexity of this problem is doubtlessly a factor. Sand is a common-pool resource – open to all, easy to get and hard to regulate. As a result, we know little about the true global costs of sand mining and consumption.
Demand will increase further as urban areas continue to expand and sea levels rise. Major international agreements such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Convention on Biological Diversity promote responsible allocation of natural resources, but there are no international conventions to regulate sand extraction, use and trade.
As long as national regulations are lightly enforced, harmful effects will continue to occur. We believe that the international community needs to develop a global strategy for sand governance, along with global and regional sand budgets. It is time to treat sand like a resource, on a par with clean air, biodiversity and other natural endowments that nations seek to manage for the future.

Everyone is Happy When Women the Breadwinners

Since they surged into the U.S. labor force, quadrupling in number since 1970, female breadwinners have lived under a cultural microscope. Can they have a complete life, that includes all— the spouse, the baby, the corner office?
Christin Munsch, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, said this puzzle is outdated and, frankly, exclusive. She wanted to understand what life is like for heterosexual men who juggle work and family.
So, she looked at 14 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which seeks to gauge the well-being of young adults nationwide. About 3,100 respondents, ages 18 to 32, took the survey on the last day of 1996 and answered the same questions every year until 2011.
Munsch noticed a startling gender divide: Men who took on larger shares of household income had lower physical and mental health scores. Both men and women, it turned out, were happier when women made most of the money.
The findings defy conventional wisdom. Married men traditionally assumed the role of breadwinner, right?
“Gendered expectations often pull people into making different career decisions,” said Munsch, who studies the psychology of masculinity. “Men are more likely to blindly take on responsibilities with work because they’re associated with more income. Women are more likely to ask: Do I like this? Do I want to do this?”
Of course, this research largely applies to couples with the luxury of choice. Though cultural norms of the ’60s, for example, depicted men as the financial head of the household, poorer families relied on two incomes to survive long before Sheryl Sandberg started advising women to lean in.
The national survey asked participants how frequently during the past month they felt nervous, calm and peaceful, downhearted and blue, happy and “so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up.” They rated those feelings on a scale of 1 (“all the time”) to 4 (“none of the time”). Respondents also revealed how they felt about their overall physical health, with 1 meaning “excellent” and 5 meaning “poor.”
Armed with this information, Munsch and her team calculated the survey takers’ and their spouses’ total earnings from the previous year and then broke down who in a couple made more and by how much. They controlled for age, education, absolute income, number of hours worked and presence of children.
Men whose spouses contributed equally had an average aggregate psychological well-being score of 3.33, the researchers found. (Men who contributed less than a quarter of household income had a well-being score of 3.33, as well, but showed slightly higher levels of anxiety.) Those who contributed twice as much as their partners dropped to 3.27. Men who identified as “complete breadwinners” had a score of 3.17.
The pattern persisted among physical health measures: Economically dependent men scored 3.99, those whose partners made just as much money scored 3.93 and complete breadwinners scored 3.81.
Women reported opposite feelings. The more money they made relative to their partners, the better off they seemed to be. Those who totally relied on a partner scored an average of 3.08 in psychological well-being, and those who supported the whole household scored 3.17. (Their health scores relative to household income were statistically insignificant.)
Munsch said these findings aren’t necessarily surprising. The people surveyed are either all millennials or on the edge of qualifying as millennials. Both women and men of the generation say they’d prefer an egalitarian marriage — an arrangement not as popular among their parents.
On top of that, breadwinning in general is stressful. A household relies on that income, and top earners frequently make sacrifices to maintain their income level. They may also fear losing it. The difference between men and women in the role, according to Munsch: Women could be more inclined to take high-pressure jobs they enjoy and relish stepping into a social role that was once taboo.
Men, on the other hand, might accept a high salary — and the stack of responsibilities that come with it — because they feel obligated to shoulder the household burden alone. Feeling forced into a lifestyle could drag down anyone’s sense of inner peace.
.

Preparing a Blue-Print for Space Wars

A war in outer space sounds like the stuff of science fiction but it is something we need to consider. Its impact on everybody on Earth and its implications for future human space exploration would be devastating.
Right now, there are laws that are relevant to the prospect of war in space, but currently, it is unclear exactly how these might be applied.
A group of people from around the world – including experts from Australia, Canada, the United States, Russia and China – are undertaking a multi-year project to provide a definitive guide on how law applies to military uses of outer space.
The aim is to develop a Manual on International Law Applicable to Military uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS) that covers times of tension and outright hostility.
The ultimate goal is to help build transparency and confidence between space-faring states.
This should reduce the possibility of a war in space, or if it does happen, reduce the impact on the space infrastructure that we have all come to rely on so heavily.
The satellites we rely on
They rely on GPS signals for many things, including navigation, communication, banking, agriculture, travel and the internet itself. It’s estimated that 6-7% of GDP in Western countries depends on satellite navigation.
Communications satellites are applied not just for direct broadcast television, but also to enable many terrestrial networks. In remote areas of the world, they may be the only means of communication.
In the near future, communications satellites could provide the whole world with broadband internet.
Satellites help  get weather forecasts and improve agricultural production. They also help us to plan disaster relief, find and mine natural resources, monitor the health of the environment and many other applications.
‘Expect’ war in space
In the military context too, satellites have become essential. In June this year, US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said a future war in space is likely and the US is investing heavily in maintaining its military dominance in space. She commented:
We must expect that war, of any kind, will extend into space in any future conflict, and we have to change the way we think and prepare for that eventuality.
The first Gulf War in 1991 has often been called the first space war, though it wasn’t actually fought in outer space. Rather, the US and coalition forces relied heavily on GPS and other satellite technology to conduct that conflict.
Since then, space-based assets have enabled even greater capability for land, sea and air forces.
Given the dual use of many satellites, an armed conflict in space could be catastrophic to modern life.
Treaty on some weapons in space
There are only five global treaties specific to space. Chief among them is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, but only one of its provisions (Article IV) directly deals with military activity – it prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space.
Other means and methods of destroying or interfering with a satellite are not prohibited, although other areas of law, like the Laws of Armed Conflict, regulate their use.
This includes things such as anti-satellite missiles, directed energy weapons (including lasers), electronic warfare, cyber warfare and dual-use technology, such as on-orbit servicing (“mechanic”) satellites.
A combined effort
The MILAMOS project is led by three universities: Adelaide here in Australia, McGill in Canada, and Exeter in the UK. It received some funding from the Australian and Canadian governments, as well as from private donors.
It relies on expertise from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Union of Concerned Scientists and from the major space-faring states, principally the US and Russia, but also China and other countries.
They participate in a strictly personal (rather than representative) capacity to provide an authentic account of what the law is, not to negotiate what states would like the law to be.
Even so, reflecting a true consensus position on the law, in spite of the strongly held personal positions of individual experts, can be challenging. But that is what the project aims to achieve in nine workshops over three years.
So far meetings have been held in Montreal, Adelaide, New Delhi and Colorado Springs in the US.
Mind the legal gap
The alternate is for states to formally negotiate new international instruments to clarify or extend the law. Unfortunately, recent attempts to do so have not met with great success. This creates a legal gap that this manual seeks to fill.
In this regard, it is similar to other manuals drafted in recent years on the law applicable to warfare in other domains: maritime (San Remo Manual), air and missile (Harvard Manual) and cyber (Tallinn Manual).
Even though these manuals are not formally endorsed by states, they are an essential reference for those who work in the field. This includes military practitioners, government lawyers and policy advisors, the media, public advocacy groups and other non-government organisations.
Final publication of the manual is expected in 2020. Paradoxically, the MILAMOS contributors earnestly hope that the manual will only ever remain on the shelf and never be used.

The Superpower Megalomania of The EU

Perhaps the most sinister feature of the European Union is the way that those in charge are absolutely certain they’re right. In October the EU produced a report titled “Reaching Out to EU Citizens: A New Opportunity” by Luc Van den Brande, a special adviser to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The paper begins by stating that the EU is “experiencing extraordinary times.”
The paper is full of recommendations on what the EU should do in response to EU-wide euroskepticism. “Faced with euroskeptic parties in many of the EU member states, European citizens need to be able to better understand how the EU affects their daily lives; but more importantly, they also need to feel that they are fully part of the European project,” states the paper.
There’s a stunning assumption in that statement. The problem isn’t that voters don’t want a European super state. It isn’t that they wish Brussels had less power over their lives. Instead, the problem is ignorance.
Europe’s bureaucrats are so certain of their rightness they can’t imagine anyone could have all the facts and still disagree with what they’re doing. So if some voters say the EU has too much power, what’s the solution? More power for the EU—so they can educate these ignorant voters!
The paper goes on to make a number of striking recommendations. It calls for a “single president of the European Union”—a recommendation made more and more often by EU elites.
It also wants to play a much larger role in communication. The EU needs to be “devising a narrative” to aid it in “winning the hearts and minds of citizens.” Brande insists this is “not propaganda”—but methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.
The paper also blames growing euroskepticism on a “drop in the quality and trustworthiness of traditional media.” Again, the unstated assumption is that if the media were trustworthy, then everyone would naturally love the EU. The solution? “Launch a European training program for regional and local journalists.” Another Orwellian power grab.
But if the EU only reaches people once they’re old enough to read newspapers, it may be too late. Which is why the report calls for a “European studies curriculum for all stages of education” from primary or elementary school on up. Also, “well-known cultural and sports personalities could be asked to serve as Union ambassadors” to get young people behind the project.
The paper makes clear that the EU is not merely an agreement between national governments. The report also calls for the creation of EU bodies on a regional and local level. “Bottom-up, decentralized ‘citizens’ assemblies’ under different forms could be encouraged and sustained as a collective process of reflection on the values that consolidate a community and the reasons for building a future together,” writes Brande. “Such assemblies could be organized in different member states or regions, and also as transregional ones, with a view to bringing citizens’ proposals together.”
Daniel Huggins, whose article on the Commentator drew my attention to the report, wrote, “With a flag, currency, anthem, seemingly an army in development and discussion of regional ‘citizen assemblies,’ the proposals in this report—if implemented—would bring us to the last stretch along the federalist road. This is no longer federalism through the back door—which has occurred for decades. Nor is this typical of an organization known to intentionally hide its federalist aims.”
When Britain left the EU, some wrote that European integration was dead, that voters even outside of Britain were becoming fed up with Brussels, and the Union would expand no further. Brande’s paper shows this isn’t true. The entire top cadre of the EU is determined to move forward. They are impervious to reason or disagreement. The solution to every problem is more Europe.
If all they had to show for this determination were research papers, then these bureaucrats would be easier to write off. But they’re not.
The EU officially launched its new military cooperation initiative yesterday. Politico called it “a major step” toward “a European military intervention force.” Germany’s Defense Ministry said it was the “launch of the military union.” This is just the latest pro-integration project.
And so the EU marches on. Rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated. It means some big changes are coming, and only as a result of major crises. The EU is currently 28 nations, and not having a smooth sailing. This multinational behemoth will never completely overcome national differences.
It’s time to wake up. The European union is the world’s number one importer. the world’s number 2 industrail power, already out-producing Russia! It is destined to grow by leaps and bounds in the future.
Konrad Adenauer stated in 1950, “A federated Europe will become a Third Force in the world … powerful enough to intervene successfully—in a decisive moment—to safeguard the peace …. Germany has again become a factor with whom others will have to reckon in international affairs ….” But let us not forget that any power led by people who believe they are infallible is a dangerous one.

Setting Next Year’s Goals: Ask Yourself 31 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Doing So

After one week, the new year dawns and you come out with a new goal, which most likely is not kept. Have you ever done a “copy and paste” of your goals from the previous year because you didn’t accomplish any of them? I have seen people fall into the lazy trap of making goals in line with what everyone else was doing — weigh less, spend less, earn more.
The new year is an opportunity. Many of us use the turning of the new year to think about where we are now and where we want to go. We set goals and make resolutions for how the coming year will be different. It might also be Better.
When we set goals by just going through the motions, we have little chance of success. At best, we might luck into a little progress, but it’s never very satisfying. Instead, taking time in advance to reflect leads to knowing ourselves better. And when we know ourselves, setting the goals for what’s next becomes much easier.
If life is a journey, the questions we ask ourselves are the fuel that gets us from here to there.
Without this intentional reflection, we react impulsively and with limited information. We’re vulnerable to getting pushed around by the forces of those more proactive than us.
Here are 31 questions to reflect on now before you set your New Year’s resolutions. They’re intended to get you thinking about what you have to be grateful for, what you want to change, and what effort is needed to propel you forward.
1. What are the first thoughts that come to mind about the past year? Mostly positive, negative, or neutral?
2. What was one of the most interesting things I learned this year?
3. Who was one person I met that I’d like to get to know better? Why?
4. What was one of my most challenging moments? Why?
5. What was one of my favorite accomplishments?
6. What was one personal strength I used this year? How did it benefit my work or life?
7. What hurdle came up more than once? (time, money, attitude, location, knowledge, etc.)
8. How well did I communicate with the people who matter most to me?
9. What three events or accomplishments were made possible by the help of others?
10. What advice would you offer someone else based on a lesson learned this year?
11. Identify three problems that came up at work. How did I approach solving those problems? Are there any trends in those problems or solutions?
12. Who needed my encouragement this year? What did I say or do to help them along?
13. If I were writing a memoir, what would I highlight in the chapter about this year?
14. What was I doing when I forgot about time and was able to be “in the moment?”
15. What frustration seemed to come up again and again?
16. What did I start and not finish?
17. What did I try and fail?
18. What three things am I curious to know more about?
19. If I could wave a magic wand and master one skill, what would it be? Why?
20. Who is one person I could help right now? How? What would it “cost” me? What would I gain?
21. When did I slow someone else’s progress? Why? What was I worried about?
22. What’s one thing I made or created from scratch? How did that feel?
23. What’s one thing I did that left me exhausted at the end? How did that feel?
24. What’s one thing I was a part of this year that I’ll remember for the rest of my life? Why?
25. What was the nicest thing someone did for me this year?
26. What was the nicest thing I did for someone else this year?
27. If I could change one thing that happened this year, what would it be?
28. What felt difficult one year ago that now feels easy (or easier)?
29. Of the books I read this year, which was my favorite?
30. How did I capture my thoughts and feelings? (journaling, writing, social media sharing, talking one-on-one with friends/family, etc.) Was that method helpful?
31. What are six adjectives that best describe this year? What would I like those adjectives to be next year?
Asking ourselves reflective questions can jump-start our learning. When we’re more aware of our interests and desires we can create goals that align with what we want — not what we think we’re supposed to want. Some of these questions are bigger than others and will be more difficult to answer. They’re intended to be asked one at a time each day for a month. Taking these questions day by day allows our thinking to change over the course of the day. Keeping a journal of these questions and our answers helps keep track of what we notice through this process. At the end of the month, use these answers to help you create goals aimed at making the coming year your best year yet

X-Mas Special: Christmas Islamised & Devalued

When either politically correct politicians or self-serving, pseudo-nationalists pandering to baser elements who want to curry favor with the fundamentalists, the results are mind-boggling. Either way, it is the cherished values that are sacrificed, it is sacrosanct institutions that are derided and even the religious and cultural practices lose their charm and become insipid. So has the Christmas become this year in Europe. This year’s Christmas season has been marked by Islam-related controversies in nearly every European country. Most of the conflicts have been generated by Europe’s multicultural political and religious elites, who are bending over backward to secularize Christmas, ostensibly to ensure that Muslims will not be offended by the Christian festival.
Many traditional Christmas markets have been renamed — Amsterdam Winter Parade, Brussels Winter Pleasures, Kreuzberger Wintermarkt, London Winterville, Munich Winter Festival — to project a multicultural veneer of secular tolerance.
More troubling are the growing efforts to Islamize Christmas. The re-theologizing of Christmas is based on the false premise that the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus (Isa) of the Koran. This religious fusion, sometimes referred to as “Chrislam,” is gaining ground in a West that has become biblically illiterate.
In Britain, for instance, the All Saints Church in Kingston upon the Thames recently held a joint birthday celebration for Jesus and Mohammed. The “Milad, Advent and Christmas Celebration” on December 3 was aimed at “marking the birthday of Prophet Mohammed and looking forward to the birthday of Jesus.” The hour-long service included time for Islamic prayer and was followed by the cutting of a birthday cake.
The prominent Christian blog “Archbishop Cranmer” rebuked the church for its lack of discernment: “Note how this event is ‘Marking the birthday of Prophet Mohammed,’ but not looking forward to the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mohammed gets his prophethood, while Jesus gets neither his prophethood nor his priesthood; neither his kingship nor his messiahship. It’s the exalted Prophet Mohammed along with plain old Jesus, because to have added any of his claims to divinity would, of course, have alienated many Muslims (if they hadn’t already been alienated by the haram [forbidden by Islam] celebration), which wouldn’t have been very interfaith or sensitively missional, would it?”
The blog added that exalting Mohammed in churches effectively proclaims that Mohammed is greater than Jesus: “Every time a church accords Mohammed the epithet ‘Prophet,’ they are rejecting the crucifixion, denying the resurrection of Christ, and refuting that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, for Mohammed denied all of these foundational tenets of the Christian faith.”
Previously, a passage from the Koran denying that Jesus is the Son of God was read during a service at a Scottish Episcopal Church in Glasgow on Epiphany, a festival commemorating the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. One of the Queen’s chaplains, Gavin Ashenden, referred to the Koran reading as “blasphemy.” He added that “there are other and considerably better ways to build ‘bridges of understanding'” with Muslims.
In London, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, a parliamentary group composed of members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, issued a report, “A Very Merry Muslim Christmas,” aimed at drawing attention to the “humanity” of Muslims during Christmas. The report states: “Too often, Muslim charities come to our attention because of negative media coverage… What we hear even less about is the ‘Muslim Merry Christmas.’ The soup kitchens, the food banks, the Christmas dinners, the New Year clean-up — work Muslim charities will be busy doing during the Christmas period.”
In Scotland, the regional government was accused of “undermining” Britain’s Christian heritage by promoting “winter festivals” for ethnic minorities while ignoring Christmas. Scotland’s International Development Minister, Alasdair Allan, pledged nearly £400,000 ($535,000) to fund 23 events during the winter months. He described them as “key dates in our national calendar” and said the “exciting and diverse” program would help Scots “celebrate everything great about our wonderful country during the winter months.” None of the events, however, has any connection to Christmas. A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “It is deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government has chosen not to recognize the religious reality of Christmas in its Winter Festival events. Over half of the population stated their religion as Christian in the last census. Catholics, and other Christians, may quite rightly wonder why this publicly-funded Festival does not include any events designed to help Scots celebrate the birth of Christ which is undoubtedly the most significant celebration in the winter months.”
Gordon Macdonald, of Christian charity CARE, added: “It is part of the general secularization that has been taking place within the Scottish Government for a number of years where our Christian heritage and value system has been undermined as a direct result of government policy.”
In Denmark, a primary school in Graested cancelled a traditional church service marking the beginning of Christmas in order not to offend Muslim pupils. Some parents accused the school of having double-standards: it recently held an event called “Syria Week” in which children immersed themselves in Middle Eastern culture. Ignoring parents, the school board sided with the school: “The board backs the school’s decision to create new traditions [emphasis added] that involve children and young people.”
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who attended the school as a child, said the decision should be reversed. Health Minister Ellen Trane Norby added: “Danish primary schools have a duty to spread education — and teaching the cultural values and knowledge connected to Christmas is an essential part of that.”
In France, the annual Christmas market in the Croix-Rousse district of Lyon was cancelled because of exorbitant security costs associated with protecting the event from Islamic terror. The city’s annual festival of lights did go ahead this year. The military governor of Lyon, General Pierre Chavancy, said that, because of the “sensitivity” of the event, 1,500 soldiers and police, backed up by dogs, river brigades and mine-clearers, would be deployed to provide security.
In neighboring Belgium, the head of the Red Cross in Liège, André Rouffart, ordered all 28 offices in the city to remove crucifixes to affirm the organization’s secular identity. Critics said the decision was part of a broader effort to “modify certain terminologies” and to “break with our traditions and our roots” in order to appease Muslims. “We once said Christmas holidays, now we say winter holidays,” said a local Red Cross volunteer. “The Christmas market in Brussels has been renamed ‘Winter Pleasures.’ Let things remain as they are.”
In Germany, a school in Lüneburg postponed a Christmas party after a Muslim student complained that the singing of Christmas carols during school was incompatible with Islam. The school’s decision to reschedule the event as a non-compulsory after-school activity generated “a flood of hate mail and even threats against school management and school board,” according to Focus. In an effort to appease angry parents, Headmaster Friedrich Suhr said that “non-Christian” Christmas songs such as “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” would not be banned. Alexander Gauland, the leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), said the school’s action was “an unbearable, involuntary submission to Islam” and amounted to a “cowardly injustice” toward non-Muslim children.
In Munich, ads for a multicultural “winter market” depicted a snowman covered in a burqa. The chairman of the AfD in Bavaria, Petr Bystron, noted the irony: “A burqa snowman as a tolerance symbol?” In Halle, the Christmas market was renamed “Wintermarket.”
In Berlin, the traditional Christmas market was protected by walls of concrete barriers to prevent a repeat of last year’s jihadist attack in which 12 people were killed and more than 50 injured. In Stuttgart, a 53-year-old man was arrested at the Christmas market after he claimed to carrying a bomb in his backpack. In Potsdam, the Christmas market was closed after a nearby pharmacy received a letter bomb. In Bonn, the Christmas market was evacuated due to a bomb threat.
In Italy, a school in Milan removed references to Christmas at a party and renamed the holiday as “The Great Festival of Happy Holidays.” Writing on Facebook, local politician Samuele Piscina accused the school of implementing “a politically correct leftist policy” that deprives Italian children the joy of Christmas: “After the nativity scenes and the crucifixes, now even Christmas parties are hindered in schools. The word ‘Christmas,’ a symbol of our faith and our culture, does not discriminate against anyone. Striking the emblems of Christmas does not guarantee anyone’s respect, does not produce a welcoming and inclusive school and society, but fosters intolerance towards our culture, our customs, our laws and our traditions. We firmly believe that our traditions must be respected.”
In Bolzano, a cardboard Christmas tree was ordered to be removed from the town hall because “it could have offended the sensibilities” of Muslims. A local politician, Alessandro Urzì, expressed outrage at the decision: “The bureaucratic rigor with which the tree was removed to avoid the risk of annoying someone reflects the barbarization of the cultural climate.”
In Norway, a primary school in Skien announced that its Christmas festivities this year would include not only the usual reading by pupils of verses from the Bible but also two verses from the Koran which refer to Jesus. The inimitable Bruce Bawer explained the implications: “Stigeråsen School’s Christmas plans provide yet another example of dhimmitude: craven European submission to Islam. This year, there might be a couple of Koran verses in a Christmas show; next year, a yuletide event at which both religions are celebrated on an even footing; and not too many years after that, perhaps, a children’s celebration at which there is no cross and no Christmas tree, only prayer rugs, benedictions in Arabic, and hijabs for the girls.”
In Spain, the Madrid City Council replaced Christmas festivities in the capital with a neo-Pagan “International Fair of the Cultures.” According to Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, a former member of Spain’s Communist Party, the express purpose of the month-long event is to de-Christianize Christmas to make it more inclusive: “We all know that Christmas is a festival of religious origin, but it is also a celebration of humanity, solidarity. Therefore, the Madrid City Council wants to do everything possible so that everyone who is in this city, from wherever they may be, can enjoy Christmas.”
Breaking with tradition, the Madrid city hall also refused to place a nativity scene at the Puerta de Alcalá, one of the city’s most iconic monuments. Local politician José Luis Martínez-Almeida accused Carmena of “enthusiastically collaborating in the celebration of Ramadan” but “trying to hide all the Christian symbols of Christmas.” He added: “We want to reclaim our cultural and religious roots.”

2017 – a ‘Crossroads of History’ for Global Power Balance

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued an end-of-year assessment on December 10, saying 2017 is closing with the world now “at a crucial stage of evolving international landscape and shifting balance of power.”
In a speech delivered at the opening of the Symposium on International Developments and China’s Diplomacy in 2017, Mr. Wang painted a revealing picture of the way the Chinese leadership sees the era of American global dominance ending and leaving a void that China must fill.
“The world is changing like never before,” Wang said, “and China is on the final leg of its march toward national rejuvenation. In a great era that is unfolding before our eyes, let us follow the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, keep our mission firmly in mind, live up to the trust placed on us, and scale new heights in our major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.”
Wang said, “The human society has once again come to a crossroads of history.”
Stabilizing the World
Wang commended China’s “great achievements” for the year, and said Beijing aims to take on a greater role on the international stage going forward. China will “play a bigger and more constructive role in upholding world stability,” he said.
He said Beijing will find ways of “resolving hotspot issues” around the world using “Chinese characteristics.” Wang specifically mentioned the Syria crisis, the Afghanistan situation, and the North Korea crisis as areas where China needs to be more involved to provide stability. He also said China will try to help resolve the Israel-Palestine dispute.
The Belt and Road Initiative
Wang mentioned the success of President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (bri) more than a dozen times, and revealed that Beijing has already inked cooperation deals with 80 nations and organizations under the bri framework. He said China has also “conducted institutionalized cooperation on industrial capacity with over 30 countries, and built 75 overseas economic and trade cooperation zones in 24 countries,” as part of the bri.
China has invested more than $50 billion into the initiative so far, he said, and has created almost 200,000 jobs in countries that the bri passed through.
This project is valuable not just for China, in Wang’s assessment, but also for Asia and the world.
A Rare Leader
Mr. Wang also upheld Paramount Leader Xi Jinping as a man with rare global leadership ability during uncertain times: “In a time of sluggish economic growth and recovery as well as global turbulence and unending conflicts, the judgment and leadership of global statesmen and the ability to take swift action are more sought after than gold,” he said. “President Xi’s visit to Davos early this year was such a trip that has boosted global confidence and charted the way forward for economic globalization.”
During Xi’s January visit to the World Economic Forum at Davos, he adamantly defended free trade, multilateral organizations and globalization, which contrasted sharply with the Trump administration’s increasing talk of protectionism and hesitancy regarding globalization.
Though Wang did not single out America in the context of the shifting global power balance, the unmistakable implication of his remarks is that international power is moving from the United States to China. Washington can no longer provide the kind of more-precious-than-gold leadership that the world needs, and now it is Beijing and Xi Jinping who can provide it.
Wang ended his address with some poignant lines from a Chinese poem: “With the rising tide and favorable wind, it is time to sail the ship and ride the waves.”

Sunday Special: Being ‘Nice’ is Not Nice for Canada

It’s difficult to determine what qualifies as “nice.” The words “nice” and “kind” are often used interchangeably. When Canadians are characterized as nice, it has more to do with being polite. And 66 per cent of Canadians believe we’re as nice as the world thinks we are, according to a survey conducted as part of The Canada Project Survey, in partnership with Abacus Data. But this Canadian niceness is worth a closer look, particularly because “nice” is how the world often defines us and how Canadians define themselves. Yet it’s used to erase and undercut many things that aren’t so nice.
Niceness has historically been utilized to undercut progress toward dismantling systemic oppression. In a piece published earlier this year entitled “You Can’t Kill Racism with Kindness,” Lindsay King-Miller wrote: “I can think you’re an asshole and still fight for your rights. You can find me unbearable and still fight for mine. And when we simplify oppression into mere unkindness, we provide cover for friendly people who support oppressive policies.” In Canada, this is all compounded by the fact that nuanced and accurate conversations on race remain rare. Here, niceness and politeness are utilized to shut down race discourse and create what Anthony Morgan calls Canadian “racial exceptionalism”- the falsehood that positions Canadians as too nice to take racist actions and to talk about racism itself. “Having avoided the depth and scope of American Jim Crow, we imagine ourselves innocent,” wrote Rosemary Westwood in a 2016 piece that asked “Is Canada too Polite to Talk About Racism?”
The problem is that there’s a wealth of evidence that racism can actually look like it’s nice. Characterizing racism as mean and blatant is misguided and inaccurate. It also means there’s no accountability for subtle, harmful behaviour that is indeed racist. What Christy DeGallerie aptly describes as “nice racism”—subtle “microagressions” and friendly forms of discrimination—can easily describe what Black Canadians tolerate dressed up with the veneer of niceness. Among these “nice” actions: Being asked where you are from, being told you’re intelligent for a Black person or offhand comments about a hair style. They all serve to center whiteness and frame a racialized identity as different. Blackness (and by default Black experience and Black thought) remains characterized as irrational, angry and misguided, while whiteness remains juxtaposed as rational, calm and intelligent.
The concept of racial “microaggressions,” coined by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, is rooted in the notion of unconscious racism. The idea is commonly discussed in the anti- oppression and anti-racism training. But by discussing intention versus impact, it still lets problematic behavior off the hook. Microagressions aren’t harmless- they arise out of implicit bias, and have real life implications for racialized people. For example, if white Canadians rely on stereotypes to even partially govern their view on Black people, decision-making is often not neutral—or nice—it is simply white. Confronting racism means having uncomfortable conversations, which runs counter to the nice narrative. Apparently, it’s not nice to feel uncomfortable. When it comes to race, this reasoning falls flat and quickly becomes about white feelings versus Black humanity. There’s no comparison here, but every Black person I know—Canadian or otherwise—has faced the same white resistance to these conversations, in which the narrative becomes about how the individual’s intentions are not racist.
We see this play out constantly, this month when liberal darling and serial offender Bill Mahr claimed his n-word reference was nothing more than a joke. Katy Perry recently sat down with famed activist DeRay McKesson and on cultural appropriation, told the world something all Black people have heard before: I would like to be educated on these issues—but nicely. Of course, being educated on other folk’s lived realities through niceness is neither useful nor necessary, but it continues to happen. Here, in Canada, I don’t know any Black Canadian without at least one account of the same story. They call out the racism inherent in a friend’s joke, or statement, and get blamed, or labelled angry. Yet whiteness continues to be understood as neutral—and nice. When it comes to race, once again it seems that many Canadians are under the impression that being nice, or polite, means silent.
Perhaps more dangerously, our niceness leads us to allow anyone to have a platform to speak about race. If a truly anti-racist lens was used in our country, Christie Blatchford would not feel comfortable using the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, in the middle of one of the biggest moments highlighting anti-Black racism in recent memory, as an opportunity to provide a misplaced Martin Luther King Jr. quote (but no reference to his work) and characterize Black activism as a mob. We certainly did not ask for her assessment on race, and deserve much more depth.
If racism was a critical issue that Canadians generally wish to discuss, we wouldn’t be given the piece that Margaret Wente recently published on white privilege—which wasn’t about that topic at all. Wente mention a discussion on a CBC radio show, Ontario Today, on white privilege being taught as an element of the Ontario curriculum. She highlighted a guest on the show, Karen Walker, a racialized parent of a multiracial child, who said she, as a woman of colour, had “never really felt outside of the Canadian culture” and that she hoped that Canada was becoming “the colour-blind society that Martin Luther King advocated for.” Walker’s remarks contradict countless Black Canadians who have spoken of their experiences with anti-Blackness. But Wente employs a method common among members of the Canadian press when writing on race—she found one person to fit the narrative that she wanted to tell. Despite quoting Arlo Kempf, who spoke of “invisible spaces of whiteness where privilege goes unchecked,” Wente puts weight on Walker’s personal feelings. Here, the existence of white privilege is swapped for feelings and packaged as the truth. Wente then focuses on white people’s emotions and opinions on white privilege, highlighting callers who “were angry, defensive and dismayed…they pointed out that not all white people are equally advantaged, and cited their own family histories at length.” She and these callers missed the fact that white privilege is not defined by automatic wealth and success. Rather, it reduces the barriers faced when attempting to acquire both of those things.
We can no longer accept a bare-bones conversation on race in Canada. If Elle Dowd argues “white niceness is the antithesis of Black liberation” in the American Midwest, an identical argument can be made to white Canadians—niceness is irrelevant, and acknowledgement of humanity is key.

 

Camus Way: Triumph in tragedy

The recent epidemic of reported suicides, is cause for concern. How to prevent it? First, there needs to be greater awareness of the issue. Albert Camus’s philosophical essay, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, talks about the “absurdity” we all face – the feeling that life is meaningless.
Sisyphus was an evil king of ancient Greece, condemned by the gods to death. Even as Sisyphus escapes death by sheer treachery, he is mortified by the gods to the unrealisable task of rolling a huge boulder over the top of a hill. The moment he reaches the top, he watches, as it tumbles back to the bottom. He is cursed to repeat this cycle for eternity. Despite the barren task, Sisyphus soldiers on with the task at hand. So, in popular parlance, the word ‘Sisyphean’ epitomises any infinite and burdensome action that yields futile results. But could this also have another, not-so-negative connotation?
Camus juxtaposes the analogy of Sisyphus to the misery that man undergoes with “absurdity”. The essay is premised on the idea that, at some point, people seek answers to the “ideal” in this world, only to be confronted with unpleasantness and chaos everywhere. One gets the feeling that life is meaningless. Camus calls this “absurdity”.
Camus sees three possible philosophical responses emerging to this state of hopelessness: firstly, an act of reposing faith in God; secondly, suicide; and, lastly, an act of defiance in continuing to live, despite understanding the futility of existence.
About faith in God, Camus becomes subjective, as he attempts to gloss over it as an illusion. He then treats suicide as an escape, without obtaining answers to the meaning of the “ideal” in life, which one was craving all along. Camus prefers the third option, a life of subjugation, to the misery of circumstances, with an attitude of acceptance.
Can meaninglessness be justified? Camus answers it from the standpoint of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, though embarking on futile labour, is fully aware and conscious of his fate and that he cannot escape it, but he can endure it. With the “absurd”, there is no hope or faith.
But, by embracing hopelessness – one is aware of the limitations in life. Sisyphus doesn’t contemplate suicide as an option; on the contrary, he discerningly revolts against his fate. In doing so, he gains inner strength and moral courage, to rebel. Camus affirms that, by his rebellion, Sisyphus is free – from the anxieties of life – and chooses a life that is without appeal. At this stage, one is indifferent to the future and cherishes the present to the fullest, even if it is deplorable. Camus is impressed: Continuing a life in misery with a profound understanding of it, is more momentous than suicide, which serves no purpose. The situation is rather gloomy; yet Sisyphus is thoughtlessly immersed in his task and thinks neither of hope nor of gloom. He is fully aware of the absurd, and is the master of his fate.
Camus sees a small measure of gratification and also triumph in tragedy. Camus praises Sisyphus as an “absurd” hero for his surmounting response of resilience to a hostile environment and demonstrating that buoyancy in crisis is an admirable quality. Maybe, the word Sisyphean can now be read with a positive connotation!

Christmas Special: The whiteness of Xmas- The Multi-hued Christianity lies Hidden Under an Aggressive Socio-cultural Construct

The late great Bing Crosby sang famously of a white Christmas by dreaming of it in 1942. Crosby’s song sold over 50 million copies while several cover versions sold at least another 50 million, making it one of the highest selling singles in history. At this time of the year, Christians, as well as non-Christians the world over, hear it on radios and at holiday gatherings. It’s a beautiful song. But its lyrics hide a few ironies.
To begin with, it is a Christmas song written by a non-Christian, the legendary Irving Berlin, who was Jewish. The lyrics pine for a snow-covered December 25th but Berlin wrote in 1940 in a part of California where it hardly ever snows and he had actually been surprised by a light snowfall early that morning. And, when you think about it, vast numbers of Christians live in parts of the world where either it doesn’t snow at all or not at that time of the year. Think of the Christians in the southern hemisphere, from Australia-New Zealand to southern Africa and South America, and of those who live in tropical or semi-tropical countries.
Yet mental images of Christmas for most people the world over reflect icicles, snowflakes, reindeer and sleds, not of a bright sun shining on sparkling flowers and green grass in summer heat. Therein lies a problem of perception shaped by socio-culturally prevalent global forces. A white Christmas may be merely a fantasy. The perceived or subconscious influence of white, Christian identity, however, remains a strong political current swaying the world.
In the recent colonial era of history and its aftermath, no more than two or three centuries old, the imperial powers that fanned across the globe were Christian and predominantly belonged to a bogus racial category called ‘white’. (The imperial Japanese were briefly the sole exception.)
Anyone who has delved into basic evolutionary history, biology and genetics, will know that a so-called ‘white race’ has no basis in fact. It is a socio-imperial construct reinforced by political and economic power pulling in its wake cultural creativity, such as that of Rudyard Kipling who helped elevate the white man’s reluctant burden to civilise the rest of us into ordained destiny.
Given their coincidence in the colonial era, whiteness and Christianity became enmeshed in a singular category. The white man’s mission to spread virtuous Christian civilisation was the noble fig leaf covering the European imperial venture. It was an aggressive ideology that came to be challenged in the post-colonial era by numerous writers and intellectuals. It never quite died. It nestles in the popular imagination of proponents as well as opponents everywhere.
How the after-effects of the ideology continue to affect us to this day may be a subject for another discussion. What we might note is the defensive posture it accommodates today for the rigid attitudes of those white Christians in Europe and America who fear being overwhelmed in the coming decades by non-Christian, non-white Others.
In the US, a large majority of those supporting President Donald Trump are white Christians. Among Evangelical Christians in particular that support is overwhelming. They want to “take the country back”. But ‘back’ from whom? They would like America to be directed, in spirit and culture, by Christian values but too many of even Christian immigrants are non-white Hispanics, to say nothing of Muslims and pagans or the growing numbers among the young to be secular-minded, not belonging to any religious order or being atheist. For most Trump supporters, Christianity alone is insufficient for being a real American; you also have to be white.
Unfortunately for them, the world is a different place now. Current demographic trends indicate that nearly all of global annual population growth is taking place in non-white, largely non-Christian developing countries. India leads the way by contributing 18% of that growth, followed by China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia.
After all, Christ was not white. Meanwhile, let’s dream of a white Christmas in a festive spirit. Happy Holidays!

PESCO – the Blue Print of Europe’s Detailed Military Planning

Pesco- the top, supposedly secret, document came to my knowledge and I was reminded of the battle fought long back. A few years back, I had visited Blenheim Palace. The palace was a gift of the grateful nation to one of Britain’s greatest-ever generals: the Duke of Marlborough. The whole place is a monument to Marlborough and is full of pictures of his greatest achievements. To me, one stood out among all the heroic poses, great victories and defeated enemies on display. Part of a series of tapestries commissioned by the Duke to celebrate his victories, it is a 15-foot-high celebration of Marlborough’s carts.
Other tapestries show the surrender of French generals, Marlborough sending out orders in the heat of battle, or troops preparing for a fight (you can see all the tapestries here). But in this one, the lowly horse and cart is the star.
This tapestry was included for good reason. War is about death and glory charges, personal heroism and brilliant tactics. But it is just as much about the boring details—such as the logistics of getting the right concentration of well-fed, well-armed men to the right place at the right time. Marlborough’s cart was a new design that allowed his army to speed across Europe. It deserves its place on the victory tapestries.
This is why just about anyone who is anyone in the history of war has a pithy quote on logistics: from Sun Tzu (“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics …”) to Alexander the Great (“My logisticians are a humorless lot … they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay”) to Gen. George Patton (“Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless”). It’s not just the devil that is in the details—the great general is there too.
I was reminded of this recently when I was looking over the EU’s latest plans for military cooperation. There’s nothing dramatic, eye-catching or heroic in these agreements. It’s called PESCO—an acronym vaguely derived from the term Permanent Structured Cooperation—which sounds more like an accompaniment to pasta than anything dangerous. But it gives Europe the ability to work on those details involved in forging a European army.
A combined European military would be earthshaking. It would produce a new superpower overnight. In fact, the EU is already a superpower—it just lacks this military dimension.
PESCO pushes EU nations to boost their defense spending. It gives them a way to work together on weaponry. And it will help them integrate their forces.
The initiative officially launched on December 11, and then again on December 14th, this time by heads of government. It includes 17 projects—many of which deal with these boring details. Germany, for example, will take the lead in the creation of a project called “The Network of Logistic Hubs in Europe and Support to Operations.” The idea is to help European forces move across borders more easily. This adds to the European Air Transport Command that has already been set up.
Germany will also lead a project to create a European Medical Command to help nations work together in aiding and rescuing the wounded. And they’ll lead another to train military trainers.
Perhaps more important than these specifics is the fact that the EU now has a mechanism to keep working together. PESCO allows the EU to add more projects, so it will be able to continue working on more of these boring details.
Germany is now working on an EU military on two fronts. It has deep cooperation with a handful of nations: Around two thirds of the Dutch Army is now under German command and German leaders are working on a similar deal with the Czechs and Romanians. It is pioneering cooperation with a few nations, and it now has a mechanism to apply it on a wider basis.
The EU is the world’s second-largest economy and the center for global trade. It accounts for 15 percent of the world’s military spending, giving it the world’s second-highest defense budget. Those statistics alone should make these efforts to consolidate into a unified military a big deal. Even a cursory understanding of Europe’s history should also cause people to take note of what is happening.

 

The Unique Quebec’s Islamophobia

“Arabs aren’t big on sensitivity; they’re more egotistical: it’s the men first, then the women, and then the children, if anyone thinks of them at all.” This statement sounds like something from the Québec far-right group La Meute, or maybe a comment from a certain type of Quebecois “feminist” like journalist Janette Bertrand.
In fact, it’s an observation made in 1905 by a young French-Canadian Catholic missionary to Tunisia, taken from the pages of a popular missionary magazine that reached tens of thousands of Québecers through parishes, schools and family networks across the province.
Here in Québec, we suffer from what thinker Catherine Foisy has described as “religious amnesia.” The mytho-history of the Quiet Revolution continues to structure our discussions on religion and its place in the province; the dominant narrative tells a story of a society that turned away from the church and toward secularity and the welfare state during the years of Jean Lesage’s progressive governments in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, this narrative neglects the importance of currents within the church that led to the post-1960 transformation of Québec.
One of the many phenomena hidden by this forgetfulness is the presence of thousands of French-Canadian missionaries throughout the countries of the Global South during the first half of the 20th century. At the end of the 1950s, more than 3,300 Québec missionaries were working in 68 countries around the world, including in Asia.
The first foreign missionaries from Québec included several members of the Catholic African Missionary Society, commonly known as the “White Fathers.” This group was founded in France in 1868 after the conquest of Algeria, and was designed to propagate the Christian Gospel to “those poor victims of the impostor (Islam’s prophet, Muhammad),” as young French-Canadian missionary Joseph Fillion put it in a 1905 letter.
In the days before Canada and Québec developed their own autonomous foreign policies, French-Canadian missionaries were in many ways the most important representatives of our society overseas. Lionel Groulx, a major intellectual architect of contemporary Québec neo-nationalism, in his 1962 book Le Canada français missionnaire: une autre grande aventure, went so far as to describe foreign mission work as the “crowning achievement of our small nation.”
As a result, the history of Québec before the Quiet Revolution was not one of isolation but rather of transnational connections, anchored in global power structures and inseparable from British and French imperial projects.
Before 1960, Québecers sought to correct the ‘irrationality’ of Muslims abroad through conversion to Catholicism. These days, we work to inculcate secular values and focus on state neutrality.
As British citizens who spoke French, young Québec Catholics became prominent figures in the colonizing projects of the two empires across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, where they waged a constant war against Islam. This religious struggle continued even after modernization reshaped the place of the church in Québec. In the 1970s, Québec missionaries in Indonesia were still reporting on their “concentrated efforts to fight the rise of Islam.”
In a Québec profoundly shaped and guided by religious authorities, missionary propaganda was one of the most important ways in which people learned about the broader world.
Through recruitment sessions in colleges, sermons at Mass, newspapers and missionary exhibitions attracting thousands of participants, reductionist discourses about Islam and other non-Christian religions rooted themselves deeply in Québec’s popular culture.
Here is an extract of a letter from Father Oscar Morin, sent from the French Sudan to his family in Québec in 1906, and reproduced in the missionary magazine African Missions:
“If one day [this letter] is published in the Annales of the White Fathers in Québec City, hopefully it will inspire some brave Canadians to come support the mission of their compatriots lost in the Sudanese brush, fishing the pagan fringes for souls to offer to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Missions d’Afrique, 1906, Author provided
Muslims, we were taught, are characterized by a marked irrationality, captives of a false ideology and attached to backward, patriarchal traditions.
If the content of this discourse has changed somewhat, the form is almost identical. Before 1960, Québecers sought to correct the “irrationality” of Muslims abroad through conversion to Catholicism. These days, we work to inculcate secular values and focus on state neutrality.
However, we continue to reserve for ourselves the position of authority, explaining to The Other how he (or, more often, she, with the passage of Bill 62, Québec’s religious neutrality law) can acquire full subject status in our society.
Often, when we talk about Islamophobia in Québec, we do so in terms of the rise of anti-Islam sentiments across the Western world following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, or we rely on secular frameworks transplanted from France.
But the aggressive version of this hateful ideology that we are witnessing today is unique to the Québec context.
It is only through a critical reinterpretation of our own history of participation in Western imperialism, and a reckoning with the frankly Christian nature of our society — despite our insistence on secularity — that we can begin to build a version of Québec freed from the racist patterns of the 20th century.

Rediscovering the Beans of Bombay

On 23rd February 1839, the Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce, which would later become the Times of India (ToI), carried a long report on a new part of the British Empire, an island at the mouth of the Red Sea called Aden.
The report, reprinted from a French newspaper in Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey) detailed how the British had acquired this from a sheikh in Yemen for “the modest sum of 30,000 talari”, as part of which the sheikh agreed to relocate a safe distance away.
The attraction of Aden, the report explained, was that it was close to the Southern Arabian port of Mocha, then famous as the centre for the world’s coffee trade. Mocha is still used as a name for fine types of coffee (and a coffeechocolate blend), and the report suggested that British were bidding to control the business: “All the Mocha coffee which formerly went to Egypt is, at present, exported by them to England.” This was of obvious interest to the fledgling newspaper, whose first edition had come out just over three months back. Bombay was the principal British possession on the Arabian Sea, so any trade taking place there was likely to benefit it. Aden would, in fact, become part of the Bombay Presidency till 1932 and for a brief period part of its coffee trade came through this city.
Coffee is big again in Mumbai today. Chains like Café Coffee Day and Coffee by di Bella are always full. Coffee roasteries like Blue Tokai, Koinonia and Indian Bean dispense coffee from named estates, roasted to different specifications and ground according to the way the coffee will be made. People come from across the city to the South Indian dominated suburb of Matunga to get their fix of filter coffee. Supermarkets sell coffee pods for machines that churn out intensely flavoured brews.
There’s little knowledge though of the city’s period as a global coffee entrepot. Bombay’s historical trade importance is ascribed to cotton and, before that opium. Yet for a few decades in the middle of the 19th century coffee from Arabia was important as well. Through the 1840s and ‘50s, the early ToI carried detailed reports on the coffee trade and notices of cargoes of beans from Aden.
Coffee was not unknown before that. As Iftikar A. Khan notes, in a paper presented at the Indian History Congress in 1996, “Coffee Trade of the Red Sea in 17th and 18th Century” the west coast of India had long had exposure to it: “The 1630s were a boom period for Indian shipping particularly of Surat and that of Dhabul bound for the Red Sea. Beside many rich articles of commerce the returning ships of those ports also brought coffee to India.” In 1740, a ship from a famous merchant of Surat, Ahmad Chellabi, was noted to be carrying 800 bales of coffee when it was attacked by the Portuguese.
Most of this was for the East India Company. Khan quotes Tavernier’s observation that Indian demand for coffee was low, though “for the banya community coffee was a leisure drink to review their wasted spirit”. The main demand came from the Deccan, where it was popular in the Muslim courts. Perhaps this gave it a reputation as a mostly Muslim drink, which would be reinforced by the legend of Bababudan, the traveler to Mecca, who smuggled back beans to grow in the hills of South India.
But this shows there was a basis for the growth of 19th century Bombay trade, though even then it was clear it would not be long lived. That article on Aden concluded by noting that the island would acquire greater significance when rail lines between Suez, at the other end of the Red Sea, and Cairo were built. By 1864 when the Suez Canal was opened, Aden’s value as a stopping point between the Red Sea and India was immense – and coffee went straight from there to Europe. Bombay was bypassed, but since its other businesses benefitted so much from the Suez Canal, the loss of coffee was overlooked. Coffee largely disappeared from ToI coverage until the 1880s when coffee plantations in South India expanded. This brief 19th century spurt in trade does remind us of coffee’s deep links through the entire Arabian Sea region. It is something that also gets overlooked due to another late 19th century development – the rapid growth of coffee plantations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Even today people extol Colombian coffee, or Jamaican Blue Mountain, while ignoring the older varieties grown far closer to India.
Now an excellent new book, Jeff Koehler’s Where The Wild Coffee Grows, aims to remind us of this by taking us not to Yemen, but to Ethiopia which is the true origin of the coffee variety known as Arabica (the other coffee variety, Robusta, originated further south in Africa, most probably in the Congo). The name is an error that has stuck, showing how little known the real origins of coffee have always been. This is despite an indication always having existed in the name. Wild coffee comes from the southern highlands of Ethiopia, in the region known as Kaffa. This was the site of a strong and relatively stable kingdom for around five centuries, from 1390-1897. But wider knowledge of it is scarce, partly because Kefficho, the language widely spoken there, had no written form till quite recently, and also because the kingdom was conquered, and devastated, by Menelik II, the emperor who consolidated modern Ethiopia.
This part of Koehler’s book is a reminder of how Western directed history blanks out vast areas. Ethiopia is geographically close to India, and has had many historical links, as is shown the persistence in India of Habshis, as people from Abyssinia, the old name for the empire, were called. Ethiopian students have often come to study here, and many Indians have worked there, as traders and, more recently as doctors, yet the region features little in Indian memory. It’s also true though that Ethiopia consciously chose isolation.
Koehler quotes one description of it as the “African Tibet” and the parallels are striking – a high plateau that is hard to reach and travel in, ruled by absolute monarchs with a strong religious heritage. After the fall of the last Emperor Haile Selassie, a brutal Marxist dictatorship kept the country isolated for decades further, with local wars making interior areas, like Kaffa, completely out of bounds. It is only now that writers like Koehler have been able to travel there. This has also kept coffee production low. In Kaffa coffee is still collected from wild, or semi-wild trees – ‘wof zerash’, as it is called locally, meaning ‘spread by birds.’ The wild coffee that Koehler describes sounds delicious, but quite unlike the standardized beans of modern commerce.
Instead it “has an unevenness to it from the mismatched ripeness of the picked fruits – a wini-ness from overripe ones came through – and dusty aromas of the woods that it never shakes. Yemen seems to have become synonymous with coffee because this is where sustained coffee cultivation developed.
But this, as agricultural scientists came to realise, was partly because coffee doesn’t grow naturally there – the land is too arid for a tropical plant, which needs semi-shade in its original area. But farmers in the Yemen figured out ways of growing the beans, and just as some of the greatest wines come from grapes grown stressed out in arid conditions, they did create a fine, and relatively consistent product.
Yemen was also far better placed than Ethiopia to disseminate coffee. Red Sea ports like Mocha had long been part of wider trade networks, as those ships from western India had shown, and then the explosion of Islam, from Mecca – another trading city – helped give a truly global boost to coffee. Koehler describes how it may even have gone back to Ethiopia from there, to the eastern and mostly Muslim region of Harar, which grows coffee in a climate similar to Yemen’s.
This coffee is much prized in Saudi Arabia. The wider coffee world is waking up to the value of the wild coffees of Ethiopia. In a later chapter Koehler describes the sensation caused by a variety found growing in Panama called Geisha. This rapidly shot to the top of cult coffee lists – and the seductive name can only have helped. But it was found to be a Kaffa variety that had somehow made its way to Central America and its name came from a forest known locally as Gecha or Geisha.
But Koehler shows that the real value of the wild coffees of Kaffa lies elsewhere. Arabica coffee, which is self-pollinating, is a genetically fragile plant, easily susceptible to viruses, especially when grown in the monocultures of modern plantations. As has been shown with many crops, like bananas, such monocultures always end up being decimated by a killer virus, and this is happening with coffee leaf rust virus. In the late 19th century this devastated coffee cultivation in Ceylon so completely that the island, which was once a large producer, simply gave up on the crop.
More recently it has caused havoc in Central and South America. But in Kaffa the virus is kept in check by the diversity of coffee varieties. The best check against viruses is always to preserve diversity, which ensures there will always be some genetic factors that viruses cannot attack. The threats in Kaffa come from elsewhere. A growing population is putting pressure on the wild coffee forests even as climate change is also causing them to shrink. This sounds very similar to what is happening in Darjeeling, and it is no surprise that Koehler had earlier written one of the best books on Darjeeling tea. That focus on the physical aspect of the plant, and how it links to its history and cultivation is what he has repeated here with coffee.
The news from Darjeeling is very bleak this year. The political battles that froze the region have nearly destroyed the value of this year’s crops and some of the best and most committed owners are seriously contemplating closing. What has happened with Darjeeling tea is a masterclass in how to destroy a premium product, and Koehler’s book foresaw a lot of what has happened.
With Kaffa’s wild coffees Koehler is dealing with a product that has never got its due, and which could develop in very promising ways for the region and coffee lovers in general. For all the problems he details, he also notes how a (relatively) stable government in Ethiopia is now trying to develop the potential of the product. Coffee lovers in India could help by retracing the steps of ancient trade routes, and going back to the origins of coffee for some truly amazing beans.

 

Implications of Trump’s National Security Strategy for India

The Trump administration released its first national security strategy (NSS) on December 18. In principle, the congressionally-mandated document charts out Donald Trump’s strategic objectives and ways to meet them. Trump’s worldview is distinctly un-strategic, with a marked preference for tactical “deals”. As a White House official admitted, it is unclear whether Trump even read the document that bears his signature. Given this disposition of the disruptor-in-chief, the extent to which a national security strategy of the Trump White House can – or should – be taken seriously can be questioned.
However, the broad thrust of the document transcends Trump and, as has already been noted by other analysts, reflects a growing consensus in the American establishment that China is an adversary. As far as India is concerned, this is the good news. The bad news is that Russia – supplier of almost 70% of Indian weapons and fellow champion of a multipolar world – is also in the American cross hairs. The Trump NSS clubs Russia and China together in the same conceptual category of “revisionist” states. Long wary of hyphenation, New Delhi may now have to deal with the consequence of yet another one.
NSS makes good on one of the persistent themes of Trump’s foreign-policy pronouncements in the run-up to 2016 elections: of Chinese as unalloyed hostiles out to “rape” American workers. It describes the People’s Republic as a mercantilist power with views “antithetical” to that held by Americans. It amplifies New Delhi’s concerns with Chinese-led global infrastructure initiatives such as the Belt and Road system. Most crucially, it notes “China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others.” This formulation frames Beijing as architect of zero-sum games, and is in sharp contrast to the “win-win cooperation” narrative preferred by Chinese mandarins.
Coming as it does on the heels of the Doklam standoff, the Indian establishment could indeed welcome this recognition of Chinese intransigence. It would also note how this is a far cry from the Obama administration’s 2015 NSS that welcomed the rise of a “peaceful” and “prosperous” China. As 2018 rolls in a sharp deterioration of China-US ties cannot be ruled out, especially if Washington perceives Beijing as obdurate when it comes to resolving the crisis in the Korean peninsula. Should Trump act against China economically, his actions will have the imprimatur of a formal strategy document.
The bad news for New Delhi is the administration’s stance on Russia that NSS codifies. After Trump’s election late last year, senior Indian officials viewed it as a net positive for India, premising it on the possibility of a US-Russia rapprochement based on candidate Trump’s open admiration of Vladimir Putin. Since then, details of how Russia may have influenced the 2016 US election have come to light. As special counsel Robert Mueller probes the extent to which Trump’s campaign may have been in cahoots with Moscow, his administration may be cornered into taking a much tougher stance on Russia partly to dissociate itself from charges of overt collusion.
Indeed the hostile language of the Trump NSS when it comes to Russia may largely be for domestic consumption, with the 2018 US congressional election in mind. Without irony, the document notes Russia’s interference in domestic politics of other countries. However, should Trump act on his own NSS, Putin could well raise the stakes for the US and its allies, and probe the seriousness of Trump’s so-called “imperialist” strategy – as Kremlin described the NSS soon after its release. As India seeks to play nice to two actors deeply antagonistic towards each other, the NSS stands to complicate Modi’s foreign policy in the run-up to the 2019 general election here at home.
Providing greater clarity on the current US administration’s worldview, President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled national security strategy (NSS) is perhaps the most important American policy document of the year. It lays out what Trump’s ‘America First’ principle means in terms of Washington’s foreign policy and delineates friends, foes and frenemies. The overarching thought behind the document is a refusal to accept that American power is diminishing in the international arena. It identifies Russia and China as countries that challenge American influence, values and wealth, perceives Iran and North Korea as rogue nations, and squarely acknowledges the threat posed by transnational terror groups and crime syndicates.
The document has several positives for New Delhi. India has been recognised as a leading global power, with Trump administration stating it will deepen its strategic partnership and support India’s leadership role in maintaining security in the Indo-Pacific. This is particularly important in the context of Chinese muscle flexing in Asia which has led to confrontations with other Asian nations, including India – witness the 73-day Doklam standoff between New Delhi and Beijing accompanied by extraordinary Chinese belligerence. The document’s observation that China built its power through compromise of sovereignty of other nations clearly calls out Beijing’s aggressive tactics in the region.
As things stand, China leaves no stone unturned in taking advantage of the strategic ‘opportunities’ of expanding its power and pressuring neighbours. Given this scenario, it’s good to have the US in India’s corner as a counterbalance. Meanwhile, the US has been forthright about Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism, calling upon Islamabad to desist from destabilising Afghanistan and end support to terror groups. Unlike previous US administrations, Washington’s new strategy ends the practice of hyphenating India and Pakistan.
The problematic area in the new security strategy, though, is the tough line taken on Russia and Iran – both countries that India would like to work with. Russia, in particular, is a major strategic ally. Trump is known to be unpredictable, and may not follow through on all elements of the current NSS. That would be bad if Washington drops the ball on pressuring Pakistan for nursing terror militias. But it would be good if it enables cooperation between Washington and Moscow. Unfortunately, with special counsel Robert Mueller investigating Russian interference in US elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, the latter is a distant prospect.
New Delhi has recently sought to reinvigorate a cooperative triangular relationship with both Russia and China, the recent RIC foreign ministers’ summit in New Delhi being a case in point. It has also acquiesced to the renewed quadrilateral dialogue with the US, Australia, and Japan, a development that has been welcomed by the Trump NSS. Taken together, New Delhi will soon find itself upholding the precepts of the US-led liberal order, and sup with US-described “revisionists” at the same time.

A Major Problem of Renewable Energy’ Soved

Firebricks, designed to withstand high heat, have been part of our technological arsenal for at least three millennia, since the era of the Hittites. Now, a proposal from MIT researchers shows this ancient invention could play a key role in enabling the world to switch away from fossil fuels and rely instead on carbon-free energy sources.
The researchers’ idea is to make use of excess electricity produced when demand is low — for example, from wind farms when strong winds are blowing at night — by using electric resistance heaters, which convert electricity into heat. These devices would use the excess electricity to heat up a large mass of firebricks, which can retain the heat for long periods if they are enclosed in an insulated casing. At a later time, the heat could be used directly for industrial processes, or it could feed generators that convert it back to electricity when the power is needed.
The technology itself is old, but its potential usefulness is a new phenomenon, brought about by the rapid rise of intermittent renewable energy sources, and the peculiarities of the way electricity prices are set. Technologically, the system “could have been developed in the 1920s, but there was no market for it then,” says Charles Forsberg, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and lead author of a research paper describing the plan, that appears this week in the Electricity Journal.
Forsberg points out that the demand for industrial heat in the U.S. and most industrialized regions is actually larger than the total demand for electricity. And unlike the demand for electricity, which varies greatly and often unpredictably, the demand for industrial heat is constant and can make use of an extra heat source whenever it’s available, providing an almost limitless market for the heat provided by this firebrick-based system.
The system, which Forsberg calls FIRES (for FIrebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage), would in effect raise the minimum price of electricity on the utilities market, which currently can plunge to almost zero at times of high production, such as the middle of a sunny day when solar plant outputs are at their peak.
Electricity prices are determined a day in advance, with a separate price for each one-hour segment of the day. This is done through an auction system between the producers and the distributors of power. Distributors determine how much power they expect to need during each hour, and suppliers bid based on their expected costs for producing that power. Depending on the needs at a given time, these prices can be low, if only baseload natural gas plants are needed, for example, or they can be much higher if the demand requires use of much more expensive “peaking” power plants. At the end of each auction, the distributors figure out how many of the bids will be needed to meet the projected demand, and the price to be paid to all of the suppliers is then determined by the highest-priced bid of all those accepted for that hour.
But that system can lead to odd outcomes when power that is very cheap to produce — solar, wind and nuclear power, whose actual operating costs are vanishingly small — can supply enough to meet the demand. Then, the price the suppliers get for the power can be close to zero, rendering the plants uneconomical.
But by diverting much of that excess output into thermal storage by heating a large mass of firebrick, then selling that heat directly or using it to drive turbines and produce power later when it’s needed, FIRES could essentially set a lower limit on the market price for electricity, which would likely be about the price of natural gas. That, in turn, could help to make more carbon-free power sources, such as solar, wind, and nuclear, more profitable and thus encourage their expansion.
The collapse of electricity prices due to expansion of nonfossil energy is already happening and will continue to increase as renewable energy installations increase. “In electricity markets such as Iowa, California, and Germany, the price of electricity drops to near zero at times of high wind or solar output,” Forsberg says. Once the amount of generating capacity provided by solar power reaches about 15 percent of the total generating mix, or when wind power reaches 30 percent of the total, building such installations can become unprofitable unless there is a sufficient storage capacity to absorb the excess for later use.
At present, the options for storing excess electricity are essentially limited to batteries or pumped hydroelectric systems. By contrast, the low-tech firebrick thermal storage system would cost anywhere from one-tenth to one-fortieth as much as either of those options, Forsberg says.
Firebrick itself is just a variant of ordinary bricks, made from clays that are capable of withstanding much higher temperatures, ranging up to 1,600 degrees Celsius or more. Virtually dirt cheap to produce — clay is, after all, just a particular kind of dirt — such high-temperature bricks have been found in archeological sites dating back to around 3,500 years ago, such as in iron-smelting kilns built by the Hittites in what is now Turkey. The fact that these bricks have survived until now testifies to their durability.
Nowadays, by varying the chemical composition of the clay, firebrick can be made with a variety of properties. For example, bricks to be placed in the center of the assemblage could have high thermal conductivity, so that they can easily take in heat from the resistance heaters. These bricks could easily give up that heat to cold air being blown through the mass to carry away the heat for industrial use. But the bricks used for the outer parts of the structure could have very low thermal conductivity, thus creating an insulating shell to help retain the heat of the central stack.
The current limit on FIRES is the resistance heaters. Existing low-cost, reliable heaters only go to about 850 C. Ultimately, Forsberg suggests, the bricks themselves could be made electrically conductive, so that they could act as low-cost resistance heaters on their own, both producing and storing the heat. A promising material for these firebricks is silicon carbide, which is already produced at massive scales for uses such as sandpaper. China currently produces about a million tons of it per year, Forsberg says.
Turning that heat back into electricity is a bigger technical challenge, so that would likely be a next-generation version of the FIRES system, he says. That’s because producing electricity with the conventional turbines used for natural gas power plants requires a much higher temperature. While industrial process heat is viable at about 800 C, he says, the turbines need compressed air heated to at least 1,600 C. Ordinary resistance heaters can’t go that high, and such systems will also need an enclosing pressure vessel to handle the needed air pressure. But the advantage would be great: Doubling the operating temperature would cut in half the cost of the heat produced, Forsberg says.
The next step, Forsberg says, will be to set up some full-scale prototype units to prove the principles in real-world conditions, something he expects will happen by 2020. “We’re finding the right customers for those initial units,” he says, which would probably be a company such as an ethanol refinery, which uses a lot of heat, located near a sizable wind-turbine installation.
“I believe that FIRES is an innovative approach to solve a real power grid problem,” says Regis Matzie, the now-retired Chief Technical Officer at Westinghouse Electric, who was not involved in this work. The way prices for electricity are determined in this country produces a “skewed electricity market [that] produces low or even negative market prices when a significant fraction of electrical energy on the grid is provided by renewables,” he says. “A very positive way to correct this trend would be to deploy an economical way of storing the energy generated during low electricity market prices, e.g., when the renewables are generating a large amount of electricity, and then releasing this stored energy when the market prices are high… FIRES provides a potentially economic way to do this, but would probably need a demonstration to establish the operability and the economics.”

 

Goodbye, The Age of Management

“The key to management is to get rid of the managers,” advised Ricardo Semler, whose TED Talk went viral, introducing terms such as “industrial democracy” and “corporate re-engineering”. It’s important to point out that Mr. Semler isn’t an academic or an expert in management theory, he is the CEO of a successful industrial company. His views are unlikely to represent mainstream thinking on organizational design. But perhaps it is time we redefine the term “manager”, and question whether the idea of “management” as it was inherited from the industrial era, has outlived its usefulness.
The World Bank estimates the size of the global workforce at about 3.5 billion people, and by no means would I expect, much less advocate, that those who are employed today will transition into a management-free structure in the near or even medium term. The vast majority of work involving human labour is still best carried out in a traditional organisational structure.
In a world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), it is the tech unicorns that will be the early adopters of a post-hierarchical model. In fact, some have already embraced it. Today’s competitive landscape is defined by one word: disruption. The ideas of incremental progress, continuous improvement, and process optimizations just don’t cut the mustard anymore; those practices are necessary, but insufficient. It is now impossible to build enduring success without “intrapreneurship” – creating new ideas from within an organisation.
The organisational dilemmas faced by ambitious disruptors are best exemplified by Netflix. Their human resources guru, Patty McCord, identified a problem that appears obvious in retrospect: as businesses grow, so does their complexity. But that comes at a cost of shrinking talent density: the proportion of high-performers within an organistion.
The slide deck she developed with the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, went viral, and Sheryl Sandberg referred to it as possibly the most important document to come out of Silicon Valley. That said, Patty McCord did not earn her accolades by identifying problems. What captivated everyone’s imagination were the unorthodox solutions that she offered: “Over the years we learned that if we asked people to rely on logic and common sense instead of on formal policies, most of the time we would get better results, and at lower cost.”
The commentary on Netflix’s corporate culture often focuses on its concrete HR policies, such as self-allotted vacations, and the absence of travel expense reports. But these are just derivatives of a larger vision: high business complexity need not be managed with standard processes and ever-growing rulebook. Patty McCord advocated the exact opposite: limit the tyranny of procedures, bring on board high-performers, and let them self-manage in an environment of maximum flexibility.
Today, we define management as the process of dealing with or controlling things or people. And if this is not a red flag to a CEO running anything other than a widget factory, I don’t know what is. Controlling things no longer appears plausible, and controlling people is downright counterproductive. Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Apple’s co-founder is rightfully considered one of the greatest visionaries of our time, but had he been born in, say, the 17th century – or even 50 years earlier than he was – I doubt such a pronouncement would have resonated with his contemporaries. The post-management era is only just beginning to dawn. And it is the ever-accelerating pace of technological progress that is responsible for destroying old paradigms.
Having smart people tell landowners what to do in a pre-industrial society would not have led to better economic outcomes. In the best-case scenario, it would have invited ridicule. There was no evidence to suggest, at the time, that the production and population growth were not one of the same.
While the division of labour was the hallmark of the industrial era, it is becoming increasingly difficult today to parse out and allocate white-collar work in the form of specific tasks. Regardless of how we describe the present, be it the digital epoch, the Fourth Industrial Revolution era, or the “second machine age”, what it boils down to is that all work that requires supervision is being outsourced to robots and algorithms. Non-standard, creative, experimental work, on the other hand, doesn’t naturally lend itself to management.
The second fundamental shift we see now is that a strategy of making a plan and then executing it is no longer viable. What used to be known as “muddling through” is now seen as adapting to the fast-changing environment. Strategy, as we know it, is dead. Dealing with uncertainty is the number one challenge and, as the cliché goes, it’s the number one opportunity too. If your company isn’t the disruptor, it’s a clear sign that it’s about to be disrupted.
The bottom line is that the hierarchical management mode is no longer suited for the challenges of the modern economy. Every pillar of a traditional organization is now in flux, as was brilliantly conceptualized by Tanmay Vora.
The status quo is often protected by the vocabulary of business: directors direct, presidents preside, and managers manage. But all those activities are adding much less value than they used to be. They constrain innovation and stifle creativity in the pursuit of order.
Contextual awareness, peripheral vision, design thinking and a multi-disciplinary approach – these are all terms that are trending in modern office-speak. And deservedly so. A project-based and titles-free organization — where yesterday’s team member is today’s team lead — can deliver the flexibility and agility that businesses yearn for.
“Context Curator” is the term I’d like to introduce to the business dictionary. To lead a project is not to assign tasks and monitor performance, but to empower, to define the broader context, and to organically link the work of one team with the rest of the business. Following the example of Netflix and striving for higher talent density is only half the battle. Curating the context in which high performers can excel – rather than attempting to manage them – is the key to unleashing their full potential.

Obama Blocked Hezbollah Probe

Yesterday, in my live comments, I referred to this startlingly new revelation as to how the US has promoted, nurtured and sustained this monster and here are the shocking details. In the final years of his presidency, Barack Obama passed on a golden opportunity to cripple Hezbollah’s global drug trafficking operation. According to a bombshell investigative piece by Politico reporter Josh Meyer, Obama was so desperate for a nuclear pact with Iran that he not only let its Hezbollah proxy off the hook—he actually BLOCKED efforts to stop the terrorist group’s criminal activities!

Even before Obama was elected as president in late 2008, he was engaged in back-channel communications with Iran’s supreme leader, promising to befriend the Islamic Republic. Soon after the election, in his Cairo speech, Obama said Iran’s history of killing and maiming civilians was in the past. It was time to move forward.

When Iran’s Green Movement rose up against the supreme leader just days after that Cairo speech, Obama’s America turned a blind eye to the democratic uprising. From that point forward, virtually every foreign-policy decision Mr. Obama made helped to strengthen and empower the Iranian king and its proxies, like Hezbollah.

When President Obama signed the nuclear deal with Iran in January 2016—lifting sanctions, releasing valuable assets, handing over terrorists and tens of billions of dollars, and clearing the path for the mullahs to build a nuclear bomb. We now know that the Obama administration was so desperate to conclude this deal that it blocked a probe into Hezbollah’s illicit drug smuggling activities.

The 14,000-word Politico investigation by Josh Meyer, titled “The Secret Backstory of How Obama Let Hezbollah Off the Hook,” reveals just how much President Obama was willing to concede in order to sign a nuclear pact with the mullahs.

Project Cassandra, launched in 2008, was a top-secret investigation involving 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimated that Hezbollah was collecting $1 billion a year from drug trafficking, arms smuggling and money laundering.

David Asher, an illicit-finance analyst in the Defense Department who oversaw Project Cassandra, told Congress that the drug and weapons smuggling campaign was “the largest material support scheme for terrorism operations” ever.

This project involved a huge amount of money changing hands. Reserves of U.S. cash in Lebanon doubled in a few years. Skyscrapers popped up around Beirut because of the cash influx. The Lebanese Canadian Bank became one of the fastest growing banks in the world.

Hezbollah used a lot of the money to buy an especially dangerous kind of IED (improvised explosive device)—the kind that was being used against U.S. troops in Iraq by Shiite militias. These IEDs were so powerful that “they could blow the side off a building,” according to Asher.

Jack Kelly, founder and leader of Project Cassandra, said about Hezbollah: “They were a paramilitary organization with strategic importance in the Middle East, and we watched them become an international criminal conglomerate generating BILLIONS OF DOLLARS for the world’s most dangerous activities, including chemical and nuclear weapons programs and armies that believe America is their sworn enemy” (emphasis added throughout).

President George W. Bush made disrupting Hezbollah’s activities a top priority, but he was hampered by turf wars between U.S. agencies. Despite the opposition, Cassandra managed to collect a huge amount of evidence implicating Hezbollah and its state sponsor—Iran.

“Iran and Hezbollah began making similar moves into Yemen and other Sunni-controlled countries. And their networks in Africa trafficked not just in drugs, weapons and used cars but diamonds, commercial merchandise and even human slaves,” Meyer wrote.

“But Project Cassandra’s agents were most alarmed, by far, by the havoc Hezbollah and Iran were wreaking in Latin America.”

You read that right. Hezbollah’s global drug trafficking network is embedded in Latin America—AMERICA’S BACKYARD! “In the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Washington’s focus was elsewhere, Hezbollah and Iran cultivated alliances with governments along the ‘cocaine corridor’ from the tip of South America to Mexico, to turn them against the United States,” Meyer wrote.

Hezbollah formed drug trafficking partnerships with cartels in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela in order to undermine U.S. influence in the region. Meyer exposed how Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was working with Hezbollah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president at the time. Due to this new friendship, Venezuela’s cocaine exports quintupled over the space of a few years.

“[B]eginning in 2007, DEA agents watched as a commercial jetliner from Venezuela’s state-run Conviasa airline flew from Caracas to Tehran via Damascus, Syria, every week with a cargo-hold full of drugs and cash. They nicknamed it ‘Aeroterror,’ they said, because the return flight often carried weapons and was packed with Hezbollah and Iranian operatives whom the Venezuelan government would provide with fake identities and travel documents on their arrival,” Meyer wrote.

Venezuela became “the primary pipeline for U.S.-bound cocaine” and “a strategically invaluable staging area for Hezbollah and Iran IN THE UNITED STATES’ BACKYARD, including camps they established to train Shiite militias.”

Two four-star generals warned Congress that Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America were an urgent threat to U.S. security.

President Obama didn’t see it that way. As Meyer revealed in his piece, the closer Project Cassandra got to the Hezbollah hierarchy, the more “Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way.”

Meyer wrote, “After Obama won reelection in November 2012, the administration’s pushback on Hezbollah drug cases became more overt, and now seemed to be emanating directly from the White House. … [S]enior Obama administration officials appeared to be alarmed by how far Project Cassandra’s investigations had reached into the leadership of Hezbollah and Iran, and wary of the possible political repercussions.

“As a result, task force members claim, Project Cassandra was increasingly viewed as a threat to the administration’s efforts to secure a nuclear deal, and the top-secret prisoner swap that was about to be negotiated.”

In the end, the whole project was all but killed “within months” of the Iran deal. Senior officials, including Cassandra’s founder and leader Jack Kelly, were transferred to other assignments.

Meyer wrote: “As a result, the U.S. government lost insight into not only drug trafficking and other criminal activity worldwide, but also into Hezbollah’s illicit conspiracies with top officials in the Iranian, Syrian, Venezuelan and Russian governments—all the way up to presidents Nicolas Maduro, Assad and Putin, according to former task force members and other current and former U.S. officials.”

This was the incomprehensible cost of President Obama’s nuclear pact with Iran!

These revelations only add more weight to the assessment that the nuclear deal was “The Worst Foreign-Policy Blunder in American History”! These were not just foolish political calculations. They were dangerous and delusional—and they led America and the world down a path of destruction. The deadly ramifications of what the Obama administration did are beyond measuring and could take years to fully play out. It underscores the damage President Obama did

Making a World-Class Megacity Chinese Style

China’s rapid urbanisation has been a wonder of the world. But with that impressive growth have come challenges – including a lack of coordination between nearby cities. As development experts increasingly recognise, economies are more effective when cities form clusters to coordinate their use of resources and share their risks.
This is particularly true of the region around Beijing, including the city of Tianjin and the province of Hebei (also called Ji). This ‘Jing-Jin-Ji’ area accounts for 8% of the country’s population and 10% of its economy, and it has great potential to become a world-class urban cluster. But urban sprawl and excessive dependence on the Beijing core have left the region with a mismatch in capabilities that will stunt its future growth. A breakthrough in synergistic development here would invigorate the economy of China’s capital and inspire metropolitan areas throughout the rest of the country.
The making of a city cluster
A world-class city cluster is not just a large metropolitan region. Its component cities and provinces each have differentiated roles in promoting the main industries within the cluster. Each nurtures its own specialty sub-industries as part of a polycentric system fostering individual and collective competitiveness. Dense transportation networks reduce travel time to under four hours, enabling talent, capital and other factors of production to flow freely.
Each cluster typically has one or two core cities of more than five million people, which focus on high-end services. Three to five secondary cities of between 500,000 and five million people take on the higher-end manufacturing, logistics, and technological development that gradually move out of the core.
Finally, 10 to 30 smaller cities of under 500,000 people supply key production components such as parts and machine tools. This differentiation helps prevent ‘big-city disease’, where the core takes on so many responsibilities that communication and coordination break down.
Beijing has 19 million people, while Tianjin has 13 million. Hebei province, which surrounds those core cities, has 73 million. This high density gives the area enormous potential for clustered growth.
Moving Jing-Jin-Ji forward
Up to now, the Beijing area has grown more as a result of government pressures to meet general economic targets rather than from responding to market signals. Each local government body has promoted GDP growth rather than specialised development. And key public resources, such as education and healthcare, are still unduly concentrated in the capital, hampering development in the rest of the region.
Recognising these imbalances, the national government has recently broadened its targets to include environmental and social concerns. While it has achieved some synergistic development, much more needs to be done to spread key resources around the region.
Better coordination and integration start with physical mobility. The region is catching up with developed city clusters in its highway and rail connections, but it will need better governance in order to ensure that the secondary and smaller cities have a strong voice in determining priorities. Polycentric ring roads, for example, are a common feature in clusters but remain underdeveloped in Jing-Jin-Ji where the focus has been on serving the core.
From there, the region can move toward industrial differentiation. While Tianjin has made good steps toward specialisation in advanced manufacturing, Hebei has lacked the resources to compete because it relies mainly on low-value production. As a result, for example, automobile manufacturers in Beijing prefer to import parts from the Yangtze Delta cluster in the south. Until Hebei has the resources to invest in infrastructure, education and public services to support industrial development, it will struggle to properly integrate with and complement the core.
Here as well, the government has encouraged many Beijing manufacturers to move to Hebei. But the province cannot simply wait on Beijing’s support. It must actively upgrade its own offerings in order to make itself more attractive to prospective companies.
Letting the market play out
Governmental bodies have been key players in driving Chinese urbanisation and economic growth. But to promote effective clusters, they will need to step back a bit and allow markets to play a greater role.
Generally, government intervention for clusters is best understood in terms of a pyramid. On the bottom layer are broad policies that remove barriers to the flow of productive factors. On the next level up are auxiliary and supportive policies to build infrastructure and lower operating costs. At the top of the pyramid – the narrowest layers – are subsidies and other incentives, such as loan guarantees, tax waivers, and outright cash. These should be used sparingly for specific needs.
Think your commute is bad? Some Beijing workers spend six hours a day getting to work
Accordingly, the government should focus its efforts on removing barriers, while only rarely helping specific industries or companies. As fully developed countries – and the Yangtze Delta cluster – have shown, spontaneous market behaviour will usually differentiate roles in a cluster better than government officials can.
Jing-Jin-Ji has the potential to become one of the great city clusters of the world, powering China’s economic development as it moves from commodity to advanced manufacturing. But to get there, the government will need to further adapt the policies that have built the cluster up until now.

Would Islam Replace Christianity As Majority in Europe in Three Decades

One of the most debated arguments about Muslims in Europe is the “Eurabia” claim: that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. For years, most of the media and analysts dismissed the claim as alarmist and racist. “Dispelling the myth of Eurabia”, sniffed a major Newsweek cover.
Not many had the courage to sound an alarm. The great Arabist scholar, Bernard Lewis, sent out a warning more than a decade ago that Europe would turn Muslim by the end of this century, and dissolve into “part of the Arab West, the Maghreb”. The late scholar Fouad Ajami also cautioned that “Europe is host to a war between order and its enemies, fueled by demography”; and the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci imagined a continent with “the minarets in place of the bell-towers, with the burka in place of the mini-skirt”. Mark Steyn explained that “the future belongs to Islam” with an “enfeebled” West in a “semi Islamified Europe”.
Ten years later, since Europe opened its borders to a massive wave of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, the demographers reviewed their assessments.
New projections by the Washington-based Pew Research Center should be on the table of every European official and politician. The projections foretell that if the current wave of immigrants persists, in thirty years Europe’s Muslim population will triple. If high migration continues, the Muslim share of Germany’s population, could grow from 6.1% in 2016 to 19.7% by 2050. Even if all current 28 EU members, plus Norway and Switzerland, closed their borders to migrants, the Islamic population will continue to exponentiate. According to Pew’s data, Muslims made up 4.9% of Europe’s population in 2016, with 25.8 million people across 30 countries, up from 19.5 million people in 2010. Today it is an increase of six million in seven years. And tomorrow?
Pew’s researchers looked at three scenarios: “zero migration” between 2016 and 2050; “medium migration”, in which the flow of refugees stops but people continue to migrate for other reasons; and “high migration”, in which the flow of migrants between 2014 and 2016 continues with the same religious composition.
In the medium migration scenario – considered by Pew “the most likely” – Sweden would have the biggest share of the new population at 20.5%. The UK’s share would rise from 6.3% in 2016 to 16.7%. There will be similar percentages everywhere, from Belgium (15%) to France (17.4%). If high migration continues until 2050, Sweden’s Muslim share will grow to 30.6%, Finland’s to 15%, Norway’s to 17%, France’s to 18%, Belgium’s to 18.2% and Austria’s to 19.9%.
Pew’s dramatic scenarios do not tell the whole story, however. What will happen in major European cities, where the Muslim communities are currently based? Will London, Marseille, Stockholm, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin and Birmingham all have Muslim majorities?
What will happen in major European cities, where the Muslim communities are currently based? Will London, Marseille, Stockholm, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin and Birmingham all have Muslim majorities? (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
The French demographer Jean-Claude Chesnais in his book “Le Crépuscule de l’Occident” predicted an opulent but sterile continent, one in which population is characterized by death, not birth. According to the national statistics agency Istat, fewer than 474,000 births were registered in Italy last year, down 12,000 from the year before, with an even bigger drop from the 577,000 born in 2008. Italy has “lost” 100.000 births in ten years. The loss has been called “the great Eurosion”. The old continent is “frailing”.
Moreover, the fastest-breeding demographic group in Europe is also the most resistant to the pieties of a secularized liberal European democracy, which is seen as a sign of moral abdication from the true “path” or “way”.
Under the “medium” and “high” projections in Pew’s scenarios, how can Europe preserve all its most precious gifts: freedom of expression, separation of church and state, freedom of conscience, rule of law and equality between men and women?
According to the French author Eric Zemmour: If tomorrow there were 20, 30 million French Muslims determined to veil their wives and to apply the laws of Sharia, we could only preserve the minimal rules of secularism by dictatorship. That’s what Atatürk, Bourguiba or even Nasser understood in their day”.
Will Europe retreat into a non-democratic regime to preserve its own freedoms or will it lose these freedoms under the rise of this large Islamic communities? Considering what Europe witnessed in the last couple of years under terrorism and multiculturalism, what will happen in the next thirty years?
Jean-Claude Chesnais rightly called this shift a “crépuscule”, a twilight. We are living through the self-extinction of the European societies of the Enlightenment. It has shaped the humanitarian age we live in – but may not any more.

 

American Morality in a New Garb

“Make America great again” is Donald Trump’s slogan. When, then, was America last “great”? This question was posed to Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore at a campaign rally in September. He pointed back to pre-Civil War days: “I think it was great at the time when families were united—even though we had slavery—they cared for one another …. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
The response that appeared broadly across media and political platforms was, Roy Moore believes slavery made America stronger! Roy Moore supports slavery!
What Moore actually said unambiguously acknowledged that slavery was wrong; he said that, setting that evil aside, there was something great about the nation when families were strong and the country was moving forward. Historians might even consider this objectively true regarding early America. But such distinctions are impossible in today’s America—where people would rather view Thomas Jefferson as a barbaric slave-owner than as the author of the language that would later set slaves free.
This is the New American Morality.
Moore was already widely considered a sex offender for trying to date girls half his age as a young man. Now—according to the crude, subtle-as-a-jackhammer Moral judgment of enlightened America—anyone who voted for Moore is not just an enthusiastic supporter of child molestation and sexual predation, but also a racist who longs to reintroduce slavery. Thankfully he lost his election, so the Senate won’t be corrupted by his influence—or so the thinking goes.
Can you follow the Moral logic? You may have trouble, because the New American Morality is rather inconsistent. But you’d better learn real quick, because it is also extremely unforgiving.
The Moral mainstream media, the Democrats and even the Republican establishment treated Moore like a convicted pedophile because of allegations from 40 years ago, some of which were proved false. Meanwhile there is a growing movement to normalize actual pedophilia: It is depicted sympathetically in certain Hollywood movies and mainstream news sources; psychologists and activists are pushing it along the same path toward societal acceptance that they once did homosexuality. Truly Moral people don’t condemn others for these irrepressible inborn inclinations.
The New American Morality says that all men are rapists and potential rapists, and should be feared and contained. At the same time, it says that if one of these men believes he is a woman, that is truth. We all need to play along. We should allow this man into women’s bathrooms, and anyone who is uncomfortable with this is a bigot. Bigotry is Immoral.
It is now Moral to allow children to choose their gender from their earliest years. It is Immoral to encourage them to conform to gender stereotypes, such as instilling in boys a duty to protect girls.
For a man to prey on a woman is clearly Immoral. But if he’s married, it is also Immoral for him to avoid being alone with a woman, whether to avoid temptation or the appearance of evil—because that would hold back her career.
Fornication and out-of-wedlock birth: Moral—and woe to anyone who would try to stop it. Pornography so ubiquitous that it is readily, regularly viewed even by children: Moral. Same-sex “marriage”: Moral. Heterosexual marriage: Might be OK, as long as the man isn’t the head of his family, which is a form of oppression, and Immoral.
New generations, growing up under the New American Morality, are learning it well. They are scrupulously not judging each other—nay, zealously encouraging each other—for many beliefs and acts that would have been considered wrong in less enlightened times. And they are diligently using their exacting Moral measure to condemn those who fall afoul of the New Morality.
They have largely come to hate the country that gave them all their freedoms and prosperity, for all its Immorality—its intolerance, bigotry, slavery, systemic racism, cultural appropriation, capitalist greed, exploitation, class oppression, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, imperialism, war crimes—and the list goes on ad nauseam. Living in the most prosperous, free, inclusive nation in human history, Moral America views it as a candidate for the most exploitative, racist, oppressive, Immoral nation in history.
Can a nation so wracked with division and self-loathing, so wholehearted in its adherence to a perverse moral standard, survive?
Ancient historian Polybius noted, “[T]here is in every body, or polity, or business a natural stage of growth, zenith and decay.” It is clear which of these stages America is in.

 

Symptoms of Global Inequality Need a Concerted Global Response

As this breathless year draws to a close, it may be time to divert our attention from the breaking news alerts on TV and the ALLCAPS newspaper headlines to assess how 2017’s rush of events has radically altered the world.
Consider this, for example: Turkey, a NATO member, is cozying up to Russia, the alliance’s old nemesis, while another American anti-communist ally, Australia, is getting close to China and openly questioning the value of Washington’s support. In another part of the world, Washington’s key Middle East military ally Qatar is counting on Iran to ease the pain of a blockade imposed by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, another major American ally. Turkey, which once partnered with the US trying to topple the Iran-backed Syrian regime, is now part of a Moscow-led effort to reinforce that same regime.
China, whose military mission remains the expulsion of US military from the Western Pacific, has now ironically been entrusted by Washington to bring a nuclear North Korea to the negotiating table. Great Britain, once the champion of global connectedness, has voted for Brexit and is finding comfort in a Little England mindset. Most dramatically, Russia has now been revealed to be an influential actor in US domestic politics. How is one to make sense of this topsy-turvy world?
US President Donald Trump, as the principal proponent of dismantling the connected world that he calls “globalism,” is often viewed as the disruptor-in-chief. This might give too much credit to the man whose foreign policy can be summed up in the four words emblazoned on his red cap: Make America Great Again. The slogan has tapped into an inchoate anger fuelled by ignorance and prejudice. To be sure, his actions – such as withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and Trans Pacific Partnership, virtual rejection of WTO, his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and the migration ban against Muslims – have dismayed allies and sown disarray and confusion among his domestic critics. But Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and protectionist posture have been long in the making, as were the views of Brexit voters.
Short lived was the jubilation about the victory of the free market over communism – summed up in Francis Fukuyama’s triumphalist formulation about “The End of History.” The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union was closely followed by ethnic and religious nationalism, with the dark legacy of long-suppressed tribalism plunging many countries in civil strife. Globalisation opened the path to prosperity for countries like China and India and enriched multinational corporations, but many of those in the Western middle class felt left out and forgotten. Unable to keep pace with the increasingly technology-driven globalisation, many slipped from comfort and certainty into stagnation and poverty.
The Great Recession of 2008-9 accelerated this gentle decline, destroying billions of dollars of American middle class wealth just as automation and outsourcing emerged as destroyers of western blue-collar jobs. Like their US counterparts, many workers in Europe and the UK felt that they had become the left-behinds of globalisation.
Job-seekers from the developing world were meanwhile attracted to the bright lights of Europe, leaving behind societies shattered by failed Western interventions, the disastrous aftermath of the Arab Spring, and the resurgence of sectarian conflict exacerbated by al-Qaida and Islamic State. Hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees and economic migrants from stagnating countries of Sub-Saharan Africa sought to rebuild their lives in Europe, where a spate of horrific terrorist attacks added fuel to anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiments.
One should remember these are only a virulent symptom of a sick world. Inequality spawned by globalisation, racial and sectarian violence fanned by opportunistic politicians and inflamed by social media need a concerted global response. Instead, world leaders seeking only national glory and quick fix have turned to narrow solutions, oblivious of the need to rein in the runaway world.

 

Sunday Special: Progress and History in Zigzag

One of the key ideas promoted by the European Enlightenment or the Age of Reason of the 18th century is that of progress, according to which human history develops across a curve from a low point to higher and higher points. One may debate and dispute the exact nature of “higher” and “lower” points in that context. But most students of the Enlightenment agree that “progress” has two facets: material and cultural.
Material progress could be measured by such yardsticks and life expectancy, average health of the people, and better living conditions in tangible terms such as housing and the ability to cope with natural disasters. On a cultural level, progress includes literary and artistic creation, scientific and technological discoveries, participative politics and the rule of law.
But is it possible to question the very existence of a curve indicating linear progress? Isn’t it possible that human history proceeds in zigzags with “lower” and “higher” points alternating according to mysterious laws?
Applied to the “Muslim World”, the theory of progress hardly resists the challenge of the rival theory of historic zigzag.
At material level, progress made by virtually all Muslim-majority countries in the past 100 years is amazing.
A century ago, Muslims accounted for less than four per cent of the world population. In 2017, that has risen to almost 25 per cent. Muslims have also benefited from progress in life expectancy, public health and material living standards beyond their wildest dreams even a century ago.Bangladesh, the state that emerged from East Pakistan, is still poor by most standards but, when it comes to absolute poverty, is no longer the hell-hole it was in 1970; it has benefited from economic development and material progress.
On a grander scale, I remember the Trucial States, which were to become the United Arab Emirates. Outside Dubai, which had one hotel-like establishment, none had any proper facilities. In the Sultanate of Oman, we had to bivouac in private homes with no electricity and/or running water, and eat boiled goat and half-cooked rice. Now, of course, both the UAE and Oman boast some of the most luxurious tourist establishments in the world.
Similar observations could be made about almost all other Muslim countries, including Iran, which began to emerge from medieval poverty only in the 1960s.
In 1973, Tehran hosted a conference on “modernization”, co-sponsored by a United Nations agency in charge of Asia. The consensus was that material progress will lead to cultural and, eventually, political progress.
Six years later, Iran had fallen under a clerical tyranny built around a hodgepodge of pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo and half-baked Marxist-Leninist methods. Suddenly, even classical Persian poets were censored or, in some cases, banned. Worse still, the Khomeinist sect that held power arrogated to itself the right to issue anathemas and interdicts, inventing its versions of the Inquisition and Excommunication, mechanisms that do not exist in Islam.
In 1960, I was surprised to find out that the Lord Chancellor had a blacklist of banned books at a time that no such abomination existed in Iran. Less than two decades later, there no longer was such a blacklist in the UK, while the Islamic Republic in Iran had worked out the longest blacklist in human history.
Even worse, the Khomeinist sect claims that anyone who does not blindly obey the current “Supreme Guide” is an “infidel”. Of course, the incumbent himself is not immune against such anathema. One day, he, too, could be hit with the “mace of takfir,” as he has happened to many leading figures of the Khomeinist regime, including four of the Islamic Republic’s six presidents.
We need to go back to history to see how the zigzag works. Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s second foreign minister, belonged to the Ahmadi minority, and even served as their Ameer (religious leader) for a while. And, yet, his religious affiliation never became an issue. Today, however, Ahmadis are hunted and murdered by neo-Islamist militants not only in Pakistan, but also in Britain. No one in Pakistan cared that the “Father of the Nation,” Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a secular politician. Today, the label secular could get you killed.
No one in Pakistan cared that the “Father of the Nation,” Muhammad Ali Jinnah (d. 1948), was a secular politician. Today, the label secular could get you killed. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
In Iran under the Shahs, building a political career did not hit sectarian hurdles, and Sunni Muslims held high offices as ministers, governors, ambassadors and military commanders. (The Minister of Justice in the last cabinet formed under the Shah was a Sunni Muslim lawyer.)
Today, however, only one Iranian Sunni Muslim holds a high post, as Ambassador to Vietnam, a country with limited relations with Iran.
In Indonesia, which has the world’s largest number of Muslims after India, such reformers as Abdul-Rahman Waheed and Nucholish Madjid enjoyed wide audiences and enough freedom, even under the military dictatorship, to promote their views in the marketplace of ideas. Today, many of their works are banned and seminars on them are attacked by neo-Islamist militants who claim they can decide who is a Muslim and who is not.
In Turkey, the neo-Ottoman elite won’t even allow former Islamist allies, led by Fethullah Gulen, even a tiny space for dissent.
And what about the mass murder of over 400 Egyptian adepts of Sufism at a mosque in the Sinai last week? Yes, Egypt, which throughout Islamic history was a cradle of Sufism and the birthplace of “alternative” ways of understanding and living Islam? “Egypt, where the perfume of a hundred flowers refreshes the believer’s soul” said the great Persian Sufi poet Sanai.
Almost 1,000 years later, there are people in Egypt who do not tolerate even a single flower, insisting that their violent thorn should conquer the earth. Had the Enlightenment theory of progress been right, today in Egypt we would have a thousand flowers instead of a single blood-stained thorn.
Today, we are wealthier, better educated and healthier than ever in Islamic history. And yet, we are faced with more ignorance, prejudice, fanaticism and violence than ever.
Others now remember us when they are asked to take off their shoes at airports and when they see our self-styled extremists cut people’s throats on television.
So, maybe we are in a zigzag mode. If so, the question is how to zig our way out of the current deadly zag?

Why is Pakistan Mainstreaming Jihad?

For three decades Pakistan’s military establishment has stoutly denied supporting violent religious groups irrespective of whether a group’s target lay across national borders or, instead, its goal was to achieve specific political objectives within Pakistan. But today the military’s attitude is more ambivalent.
Both serving and retired senior army officers are now openly expressing support for some groups. These include the newly emerged religious parties opposed to the PML-N government, notably Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League (MML) and Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA). Religious groups have already made their debut on the national scene and their initial successes — as in the NA-120 by-elections — are considerable.
In a video that went viral, the serving DG of the Punjab Rangers, Maj-Gen Azhar Naveed, can be seen handing out coupons of Rs1000 to TLYRA demonstrators while assuring them support — “kya hum bhi aap kay saath nahin hain?” The demonstrators had tortured policemen while protesting a religious issue subsequently corrected by the government. Their dharna had been declared illegal by the Islamabad High Court which had specifically criticised COAS Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa for opting to act as a mediator rather than follow the government’s orders.
Operation Zarb-i-Azb’s success has persuaded the army that deviant militants can be successfully crushed.
Retired Gen Musharraf’s recent televised praise of Hafiz Saeed also reflects a changed stance. Declaring that “I am the greatest supporter of LeT”, he asserted that “LeT and JuD are both very good organisations of Pakistan” because “I have always been in favour of action in Kashmir and I have always been in favour of pressuring the Indian army in Kashmir”. This is a remarkable turnaround — one recalls that Musharraf’s government had declared LeT a terrorist organisation and banned it on Jan 12, 2002.
Militant groups operating against Indian rule in Kashmir have always been looked favourably upon by the security establishment— this fact has never been in question. At the same time, Operation Raddul Fasaad (elimination of internal conflict) points to a recognition in army quarters of the serious danger involved; more Pakistani soldiers have been killed by jihadists turned bad than those in four Pakistan-India wars.
A line of reasoning — attributed to former ISI DG Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar — therefore found its way into military circles. It was argued that allowing militant organisations to enter mainstream national politics would channel energies of militant groups away from violence and towards peaceful politics.
While deradicalisation through mainstreaming could make sense, what mainstreaming meant was never publicly discussed. Does it include allowing former militants into the police and armed forces as well as government? Would organisations presently active overseas such as Falah-i-Insaniat (LeT’s charity arm currently operates in seven countries) become the USAID/DFID of Pakistan?
The mainstreaming argument could have been made at anytime — even decades earlier. So why did it catch on now? There are two principal reasons.
First, the international situation has changed hugely from when the United States loomed large over Pakistan. US pressure after 9/11 forced Pakistan to end its support to the Taliban and LeT, albeit only formally. But today China — not America — is Pakistan’s principal economic benefactor as well as its supplier of military hardware.
China, in spite of its problematic Muslim Uighur movement, does not mind much the extra-state actors that keep India off balance in Kashmir. It has repeatedly vetoed India’s efforts to get Maulana Masood Azhar onto a UN list of individual leaders linked to Al Qaeda. While China is a signatory to the BRICS declaration against militant groups allegedly harboured in Pakistan, for Pakistan to now give America the finger appears reasonably safe.
Second, the success of Operation Zarb-i-Azb created confidence that jihadis who somehow turn bad and direct their guns at the army can always be disposed of. By controlling purse strings, organisations and individuals can be made to act within defined limits. Else the stick will do the job.
This confidence was lacking earlier. Major military operations such as Rah-i-Rast, Rah-i-Haq and Rah-i-Nijaat, etc. had been much less successful. But Zarb-i-Azb worked well against a plethora of Islamist groups that included TTP, the militant Islamic State group, Al Qaeda, as well as Uzbek and Chechen militants. Involving around 30,000 Pakistani soldiers Zarb-i-Azb resulted in a measure of calm returning to Pakistani cities.
Of course, questions and doubts remain. For example, notwithstanding the grizzly slaughter at the Army Public School exactly on this day three years ago, the security establishment has yet to act against the chief perpetrator of that massacre, Ehsanullah Ehsan, who is in its custody. Nevertheless the army has managed to seize back its public image as the guarantor of peace in Pakistan.
The other newly favoured force in national politics — the non-jihadist Barelvi movement — has a different parentage. The TLYRA, led by the foul-mouthed cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, owes to a desire for revenge. Over the last 15-20 years, Barelvis and their Sufi Islam have had to retreat before their Deobandi and Salafi opponents who bombed shrines. The Sunni Tehreek’s leadership had been decimated by suicide attacks. But the execution of Mumtaz Qadri and the revived blasphemy issue has reinvigorated Barelvi activism.
This is good news for those committed to eternal conflict with India. Just months ago Mian Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N were considered unbeatable in the forthcoming elections of 2018. But the ‘Dawn leaks’ episode revealed a deep conflict with the security establishment — Sharif insisted on some form of accommodation with India and dispensing with militant organisations. Although the Panama Papers sealed his fate, his party has so far survived. Weakening the PML-N further will require peeling off its right-wing vote. TLYRA, MML, and perhaps others have leapt into electoral battle. Shall Tahirul Qadri again parachute himself in from Canada next year?
The 2018 elections is likely to bring martial law without martial law. Parts of the deep state see as ideal a weak coalition government with establishment-friendly Imran Khan as prime minister. However CPEC, Kashmir, US, and Afghan policy — and nuclear weapons of course — would firmly remain within the army’s domain. At least for now, this may be the only democracy that Pakistan is likely to get.

New Report Confirms US Hand in Rise of Islamic State

A new report has highlighted that more than a third of the weapons used by Islamic State (IS) terror group in Iraq and Syria came from European Union states — including Germany.

According to the study by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), more than 30% of the arms used by IS originally came from factories in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Germany. While a large quantity of these weapons were looted by the extremist group from the Iraqi and Syrian armies, a significant portion also came from the supplies that Saudi Arabia and the US made to Syrian opposition groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The Friends of Syria Group – which included the US and Saudi Arabia – had decided in its June 2013 Doha conference to supply Syrian rebels with military equipment. This was just before IS made headlines by sweeping through Iraq and declaring its so-called caliphate in 2014. It’s well known that IS had contact with many of the Syrian militias in those early days. And it’s clear now that the group benefited from the foreign military supplies ploughed into the region.

In fact, the CAR report details how the US and Saudi Arabia had bought billions of dollars worth of weapons from eastern European nations before passing them on to Syrian militias, often breaching contractual clauses about sale and export..

Plus, when Barack Obama unveiled his strategy to fight IS in 2014, this too was predicated on training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels fighting Assad to also fight IS. But of course, given the situation in Syria, telling friend from foe was extremely difficult with militias frequently changing loyalties. In fact, many so-called moderate fighters ended up joining IS and brought with them foreign-supplied weapons. That’s precisely how IS’s arsenal grew and the group became a formidable force.

Hence, there is no escaping the fact that missteps by the US and its allies aided IS’s growth. From invading Iraq in 2003 and installing a sectarian Shia regime in Baghdad that discriminated against Sunnis to supplying weapons to Syrian rebels to try and oust Assad to training so-called moderate militias to fight IS, all of these moves contributed to the civil wars in Iraq and Syria. I repeat, IS emerged in conditions that were directly created by the US and its allies. Salvation lies in recognising this and not repeating the same mistakes.

Saturday Special: Power of Art to Alter the World

One of the great challenges today is that we often feel untouched by the problems of others and by global issues like climate change, even when we could easily do something to help. We do not feel strongly enough that we are part of a global community, part of a larger we. Giving people access to data most often leaves them feeling overwhelmed and disconnected, not empowered and poised for action. This is where art can make a difference. Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.
I have travelled to many countries around the world over the past 50 years. On one day I may stand in front of an audience of global leaders or exchange thoughts with a foreign minister and discuss the construction of an artwork or exhibition with local craftsmen the next. It has brought me into contact with a wealth of outlooks on the world and introduced me to a vast range of truly differing perceptions, felt ideas, and knowledge. Being able to take part in these local and global exchanges has profoundly affected the thought process
Most of us know the feeling of being moved by a work of art, whether it is a song, a play, a poem, a novel, a painting, or a spatio-temporal experiment. When we are touched, we are moved; we are transported to a new place that is, nevertheless, strongly rooted in a physical experience, in our bodies. We become aware of a feeling that may not be unfamiliar to us but which we did not actively focus on before. This transformative experience is what art is constantly seeking.
I believe that one of the major responsibilities of artists – and the idea that artists have responsibilities may come as a surprise to some – is to help people not only get to know and understand something with their minds but also to feel it emotionally and physically. By doing this, art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the glut of information we are faced with today, and motivate people to turn thinking into doing.
Engaging with art is not simply a solitary event. The arts and culture represent one of the few areas in our society where people can come together to share an experience even if they see the world in radically different ways. The important thing is not that we agree about the experience that we share, but that we consider it worthwhile sharing an experience at all. In art and other forms of cultural expression, disagreement is accepted and embraced as an essential ingredient. In this sense, the community created by arts and culture is potentially a great source of inspiration for politicians and activists who work to transcend the polarising populism and stigmatisation of other people, positions, and worldviews that is sadly so endemic in public discourse today.
Art also encourages us to cherish intuition, uncertainty, and creativity and to search constantly for new ideas; artists aim to break rules and find unorthodox ways of approaching contemporary issues. My friend Ai Weiwei, for example, the great Chinese artist, is currently making a temporary studio on the island of Lesbos to draw attention to the plight of the millions of migrants trying to enter Europe right now and also to create a point of contact that takes us beyond an us-and-them mentality to a broader idea of what constitutes we. This is one way that art can engage with the world to change the world.
Little Sun, a solar energy project and social business that I set up in 2012 with engineer Frederik Ottesen, is another example of what I believe art can do. Light is so incredibly important to me, and many of my works use light as their primary material. The immaterial qualities of light shape life. Light is life. This is why we started Little Sun.
On a practical level, we work to promote solar energy for all – Little Sun responds to the need to develop sustainable, renewable energy by producing and distributing affordable solar-powered lamps and mobile chargers, focusing especially on reaching regions of the world that do not have consistent access to an electrical grid. At the same time, Little Sun is also about making people feel connected to the lives of others in places that are far away geographically. For those who pick up a Little Sun solar lamp, hold it in their hands, and use it to light their evening, the lamp communicates a feeling of having resources and of being powerful. With Little Sun you tap into the energy of the sun to power up with solar energy. It takes something that belongs to all of us – the sun – and makes it available to each of us. This feeling of having personal power is something we can all identify with. Little Sun creates a community based around this feeling that spans the globe.
I am convinced that by bringing us together to share and discuss, a work of art can make us more tolerant of difference and of one another. The encounter with art – and with others over art – can help us identify with one another, expand our notions of we, and show us that individual engagement in the world has actual consequences. That’s why I hope that in the future, art will be invited to take part in discussions of social, political, and ecological issues even more than it is currently and that artists will be included when leaders at all levels, from the local to the global, consider solutions to the challenges that face us in the world today.

 

The Trumpian Clarity

Possibly, it was no coincidence, as some commentators claim, that Donald Trump’s announcement about formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital preceded yesterday’s Senatorial contest in Alabama by less than a week.
After all, the chances of accused child molester Roy Moore winning the seat substantially depended on bringing out the evangelical vote. And American Christian fundamentalists generally tend to back the Zionist project on the grounds that Israel’s strength (and breadth) is directly proportionate to the probability of Armageddon and the End Times.
It may seem contradictory that Israel, even under its Likudite dispensation, welcomes such support, given that the subtext implies its imminent destruction. But it could simply be a case of acknowledging biblical prophecies only to the extent that there can be political purpose behind claiming divine right over someone else’s land.
Amid an orgy of predictable protests across the Middle East in the wake of the White House declaration, Benjamin Netan­yahu invited himself to Brussels this week, brandishing his Trump card and seemingly expecting the European Union to follow the example set by the US, which purportedly intends to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem within a couple of years.
It’s unfair to damn Trump for killing the two-state solution.
The EU was never likely to take the bait, as Netanyahu must have known — or at least realised after his encounter with Emmanuel Macron in Paris. After all, none of the 14 other members of the UN Security Council backed the US stance last Friday, prompting US ambassador Nikki Haley to bash the UN yet again for its ‘bias’ against Israel — just because it routinely violates UN resolutions and universal standards of decency. It’s worth noting that when Trump was still only president-elect a year ago, his aides Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn sought to importune other nations, notably Russia, to forestall a UN wrist-slap for Israel that the Obama administration refused to veto. Fortunately, the ploy failed.
In a somewhat different context, it was a hopeful sign that Haley did not resort to complaints of bias against her president when confronted with questions relating to accusations of sexual transgressions by Trump, instead upholding the right of his accusers to be heard — even though the White House has labelled the women concerned as liars.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has been busy perpetrating the obvious lie that Jerusalem — a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike — has been “the capital of the Jewish people” for 3,000 years. Without a break.
Identifying the Israeli state and Zionist aims with “the Jewish people” inevitably appeals to anti-Semites, and has always done so in Europe, where the most ardent Israel supporters are to be found among governments to the east of the continent, all too often coinciding with anti-Semitic notions, although they tend to be overshadowed by Islamophobia.
It is unfair, all the same, to damn Trump for killing the two-state solution, or compromising Washington’s role as an honest broker in the moribund peace process. Anyone who considered the US an honest broker was delusional. And the possibility of a fair divide has been dead for years. As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe puts it, the two-state solution is a corpse that is produced every now and then, before being returned to its coffin. It died of neglect after the Oslo accords more than 20 years ago failed to prevent Israeli settler-colonialists from continuing to encroach on Palestinian territory. (Pappe’s most recent book, Ten Myths About Israel, is highly recommended as an antidote to the most common Zionist fallacies.)
Perhaps Trump has presided over its funeral. As the perennial Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat recently claimed, the only feasible alternative that remains is a one-state solution. Historical Palestine can be one country again, provided the hitherto marginalised Palestinians are accepted as citizens with equal rights, and the victims of ethnic cleansing during the past 70 years are offered the right of return.
No, that’s not a likely scenario in the short term. But are there any feasible alternatives? Two states formed along the lines of the 1967 borders are no longer a possibility. Nor, one would like to think, is the likelihood of Netanyahu and his perverse allies succeeding in driving out all Arabs from their ancestral lands and annexing the West Bank as part of an exclusively Jewish state.
Tongue in cheek, the Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy suggests that when this outcome is achieved, Trump should be offered honorary citizenship. But it could be a long time coming, and US president is already in his 70s.

Swing ridings with high visible minority populations to tilt 2019 federal elections

It is just one and a half year and Canada goes to hustings. It is well that the political parties wake to the reality. The 41 ethnically diverse ridings are the ‘face of Canada’ and the most representative communities in the country. These 41 “swing” ridings with visible minority populations of 50 per cent or more, including five constituencies in the Greater Toronto Area that have 80 per cent or more visible minorities, will be key battlegrounds for all major parties in the 2019 election.
It is these ridings that will elect the next government.  These are the swing ridings.
Based on the 2016 census data, recently released by Statistics Canada,  27 of the 41 ridings are located in Ontario, nine in British Columbia, two each in Alberta and Quebec, and one in Manitoba.
Among the 41, there are five GTA-area ridings with visible minority populations greater than 80 per cent: Scarborough North (92.2 per cent), Brampton East (90.6 per cent), Markham-Thornhill (84.8 per cent), Markham-Unionville (84.6 per cent), and Scarborough-Agincourt (80.6 per cent). And there are 12 ridings in Ontario and British Columbia combined where visible minorities comprise between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the population.
The list of ridings with more than 50 per cent visible minority populations grew by eight seats in 2016 compared to the 2011 census’ National Household Survey.
In the 2011 survey, there were 33 ridings across the country boasting visible minority populations of 50 per cent or more. Of those, 23 were located in Ontario, eight in B.C., one in Quebec, and one in Alberta. At the time, there were three ridings with a more than 80 per cent visible minority population: Scarborough North (90.1 per cent), Brampton East (87.6 per cent), and Markham-Thornhill (82 per cent).
In the 2015 election, the Liberals won 35 of the 41, or 85 per cent of the ridings. The Conservatives and the New Democrats won three apiece, or about seven per cent each. Two of the 35 victorious Liberals are not part of the party caucus anymore: Darshan Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.), who is now sitting as an independent after facing sexual harassment allegations, and Liberal MP Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt, Ont.) who died in September. A byelection was held in Scarborough-Agincourt on Dec. 11.
Compared to the 2011 election, there were 30 more seats up for grabs in the 2015 election, because of the redistribution of electoral boundaries. Of the 338 seats open in the last election, the Liberals won 184, the Conservatives 99, the New Democratic Party 44, Bloc Québécois 10, and the Green Party one seat.
Mr. Griffith, a former Immigration Canada senior public servant and author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote, described the 41 ridings as the key “battleground” in the next election, with all parties likely to put in place certain strategies to win.
“They’re potential ridings that can switch from one party to another,” said Mr. Griffith. “These battleground ridings are those that are new Canadians, rich, mainly in the suburbs, Lower Mainland, B.C., and the 905 in Southern Ontario. Of course, that has an ongoing implication for the electoral strategies of the various parties.”
Seven-term Liberal MP Judy Sgro (Humber River-Black Creek, Ont.)  feels “blessed” to be representing an ethnically diverse riding, but acknowledged it comes with challenges. Immigration-related issues such as visitor visas, delays in the processing of applications, and family sponsorships constitute the bulk of the constituency work in these ridings, she said.
“Immigration is the biggest part of our work that we do,” said Ms. Sgro whose riding has a 74.1 per cent visible minority population. “A lot of them want their families over [in Canada] and so on. It keeps us very busy.” The immigration is largely the No. 1 public policy and political issue. The national Liberal Caucus has established four regional caucuses to discuss how to address the concerns of their constituents related to immigration.
Ms. Sgro said that before casting their votes in 2019, constituents will look at the quality of constituency service that an MP provided to them, and whether the policies of a political party are “family oriented.” On both counts, she hoped that her constituents and others across the country would vote for her party next time.
The NDP is the only political party in the annals of Canadian history that has elected a visible minority national party leader. Jagmeet Singh is the very first leader of any federal party in Canada in 150 years who is a member of a visible minority. In many ways, Jagmeet is the face of Canada for the 21st century. It was thought thatJagmeet Singh resonates with new Canadians. However, the dismal performance of NDP lays hollow this assertion.
Pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research said that by electing a visible minority as the party leader, the NDP has an opportunity to make gains in ethnically diverse ridings in 2019. He also said that visible minorities played an important role in the Liberal Party’s win in the last election. To win another election, he said, the Liberals need these voters.
“It’s an important element of their [Liberal] coalition,” Mr. Lyle said. “It means that issues like immigration and issues of identity are important issues for the Tories and the NDP to address. And the NDP by electing a visible minority as their leader, that is an opportunity.”

Forgotten Foreign Aid Legacy of Pearson

Lester B. Pearson’s legacy is full of highlights: peacekeeping and a Nobel Peace Prize; bilingualism, medicare and a new flag for Canada as prime minister. But not too many people will recall that Pearson pushed Canada into signing up for its first international aid package.
As Secretary of State for External Affairs, in 1950, he was weighing whether Canada should join the Colombo Plan, a effort to raise living standards in the Commonwealth countries of South-East Asia and one of the world’s first examples of international development policy.
The chances that Canadians would buy the concept of global poverty reduction were slim in those post-war years, says Royal Military College professor Kevin Brushett, who has studied Pearson’s involvement in the development of international aid policy in Canada.
Canadian foreign policy had, until then, largely focused on Europe and the United States. Isolationalism looked like Canada’s default position after the Second World War, said Brushett.
Openly racist policies remained in place across the country. Plans to send Japanese-Canadians to Japan, even if they had been born in Canada, had only recently been shelved. Canada still had a whites-only immigration policy. Helping poor people in Asia weren’t exactly an everyday political concern.
According to Brushett’s research, Pearson felt that getting cabinet on board for international aid was tougher than negotiating for peacekeepers to enter the Suez crisis.
“(Foreign aid) was outside of Canada’s balliwick at that point,” said Brushett. “This was something new, something different. He had to convince his cabinet colleagues (and) it was not something they were convinced was in Canada’s best interest. Suez was, for him, an easier sell.”
Pearson finally got his way and Canada supported the Colombo Plan. It was the beginning of a legacy in international development that ran the course of his political career.
Pearson’s interest in global poverty is rooted in his Methodist upbringing, which, for his parents, included missionary work in Korea, said Brushett.
It also, like peacekeeping, was not about pure selflessness. There were strategic considerations.
Tackling poverty as conflict prevention was a big component of how Pearson and his friends saw the world, said Brushett.
Keeping countries like India and Pakistan outside of the communist orbit – or outside of non-aligned and neutralist camps — was critical for western countries too, he said.
Pearson was also aware that Canada could not keep up with its allies militarily when it came to containing the Soviet Union. International development then could be the country’s strength as it sought to strengthen a liberal internationalist order.
With new friends in the Global South, Canada could also move away from being overly influenced by the U.K., the U.S. and France, said Brushett.
As prime minister, Pearson dramatically increased Canada’s aid budget. Between 1963 and 1966, it increased two-fold.
He laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 1968 by the government of Pierre Trudeau, said Brushett.
Pearson also brought forward politicians and policy-makers in Ottawa with a deep interest in international development – Paul Martin Sr., Maurice Strong, Mitchell Sharp and Trudeau.
Still, David Holdsworth, who became a vice-president at CIDA in 1972 under Trudeau, said he and his colleagues had to continually prove their worth back then in a national capital still unsure what to think of international aid.
“There was always a sense that Foreign Affairs and International Trade being the big brothers,” said Holdsworth, referring to the names of departments that now make up Global Affairs Canada.
“CIDA was kind of the afterthought.”
After the first few years, a debate began on whether CIDA’s money would be better spent in countries where Canada had a stronger economic stake.
In 2013, CIDA was folded into Global Affairs Canada by the Stephen Harper government which sought a more trade-focused international aid program.
After he left politics, Pearson was named chairman of the World Bank’s Commission on International Development by then-bank president Robert McNamara in 1968.
When the commission reported, several ideas on international development crystallized, such as thinking of aid beyond purely economic terms. The views of women and the place of the environment in development came to the fore thanks to the report, said Brushett, the Royal Military College professor.
While the commission’s lasting success is questionable, it did change the way the World Bank and developed countries gave out aid, said Brushett. Its ideas are still embedded into today’s approach to development, such as the Sustainable Development Goals promoted by the United Nations. The commission is also the source of the infamous international development spending goal of 0.7 of GDP that Canada has never achieved.
Louis Guay, a long-time member of the Canadian foreign service, began his own diplomatic career after reading about Pearson’s career. He says the former prime minister’s legacy in international aid goes beyond foreign policy and touches on Canadian identity.
Achieving peace – which marked Pearson’s diplomatic approach in Suez – and development go hand in hand. “You can’t have one without the other,” Guay said.
Guay said his career was marked by putting into practice Pearson’s marriage of peace and development in policy-making.
“Suez is just part of a continuity of involvement of Pearson in brokering good will, which he started when he was in London during the war and after the war and in hs role as a secretary of state for foreign affairs to Louis St. Laurent,” said Guay.
“What really impressed me was the brokerage,” he said.
Pearson’s zeal to include others in debates on the world stage is reflected in domestic policies, like in the case of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism commission established in 1963, the basis for official bilingualism today, said Guay.
“Canada is a country where there is a theoritical possibility of so many conflicts,” said Guay. “It is conflict prevention and conflict management that is a feature of Canadian institutions. Whenever we have something that doesn’t work well, we create the institutions that will deal with it.”
It’s easy to see the same approach at play in the post-war world of independence movements and retreating empires, where Pearson and his generation pushed for international development and better North-South relations as the backbone of the world order.

A Shared Cultural Map of Balochistan and India

The geopolitics around the Indian Ocean has placed Gwadar and Chabahar at the centre stage of an engaging chess game of power. The two ports also have the potential to become part of Indian soft-power diplomacy. The cultural ecology of Gwadar and Chabahar, defined by the idea of “Baloch”, make them suitable for such a project. The Baloch, a semi-nomadic and pastoral community, carry the collective memory of West, Central and South Asia along with the recollections of their connections to the Greeks, as part of their cultural heritage. While they are Muslims, the strains of other beliefs such as Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Sufism influence various aspects of the Balochi cultural heritage. Their language, bardic traditions and traditional knowledge skills comprising linguistics, crafts, performing arts, rituals, and pastoral and agricultural traditions recall a cultural map of different parts of Asia. They encompass an ethos forged through ideas exchanged over centuries through land and sea routes.
One such aspect is the mytho-historical thread that addresses a variety of cults of the Mother Goddess — Ishtar, Nana and Hinglaj, to name a few. The Hinglaj has a special place for the Baloch. The Hinglaj temple is located in the Hingol National Park in Balochistan’s Lasbela District on Pakistan’s Makran coast. It has one of the 51 shaktipeeths, or major shrines associated with the cult of the Mother Goddess. The location of these shrines correspond to places where the dismembered body parts of the goddess fell. Her head fell in Hinglaj. The temple, like that in Vaishno Devi in Jammu, is in a cave among rugged mountains.
The pilgrims to this shrine include not only Hindus but also the Zikri Baloch who call the pilgrimage Nani ki Haj. In spite of the political challenges in the area, the Baloch Muslims continue to protect the Hinglaj temple and ensure the success of the annual fair — a part of their vibrant cultural heritage.
In India, Hinglaj Devi plays an important role in the cultural geography of large number of traders, pastoral and agricultural communities like Khatris, Charans and Rabaris. While the shrine is important for the Shaktas, it has a special significance for the Kan Phata Gorak Nath Yogi (torn-ear ascetics) cult. The sacred stone that lies in the temple shrine has importance in the initiation ceremony of the community. Water bodies or kunds also part of the spiritual landscape. These include the Til Kund (black sesame pond), whose water is believed to turn black seeds white.
While the association of Balochistan with economics, security and other areas of hard diplomacy is well-known, its shared cultural heritage with communities in India makes it amenable to soft power diplomacy. Besides being a part of road and ocean routes, Balochistan can also be a part of a skill corridor. The creation of such a corridor — facilitated by shared cultural ecology and traditional knowledge systems — could lead sustainable skill programmes that draw on people-to-people contact at the grass roots level.