Lopsided Dependence on Just 3 Crops

Are you aware that only three crops are mainstay of our food? Did you know that not all bananas are yellow or curved like a half moon? Some are straight, some are stumpy, some are even red! There are actually 1 000 different varieties of bananas, but many of us wouldn’t know that from our markets or stores where Cavendish bananas are the ones primarily featured. Because they bruise less easily in transport and have high yields, these “typical” bananas are the ones most often produced. Despite the huge variety that exist in the world, Cavendish bananas constitute nearly 50% of bananas grown globally. The story is the same for many of our fruits and vegetablles.

Over human history, out of about 30 000 edible plant species, 6 000 – 7 000 species have been cultivated for food. Yet, today we only grow approximately 170 crops on a commercially significant scale. Even more surprising, we depend highly on only about 30 of them to provide us with calories and nutrients that we need every day. More than 40 percent of our daily calories come from three staple crops: rice, wheat and maize!

There are thousands of crops that have been neglected or underutilized for centuries. This is not just a shame for all the flavors that we are missing out on, but also for the nutrients that they provide. These “neglected” crops are generally indigenous or traditional crops that thrive in specific regions of the world. Either because they are grown in small geographical areas, have low yields, require extensive processing, are susceptible to pests or simply haven’t been well researched, they never entered into the global market and, therefore, many people never know they exist – sometimes even products from our own regions. Backed by the right policies and funding, these neglected varieties could one day get recognition in the global market.

Here are 5 reasons why we should stop neglecting the crops that can revolutionize our future of food:

1. They enrich our diets – Traditional crops are often very nutritious and can offer us a more well-balanced diet. Quinoa, for example, is the only cereal that contains all the amino acids needed by human beings. The bambara ground nut offers a great source of protein, and millet is high in calcium and iron. Currently, about 1.5 billion people in the world are affected by one or more forms of micronutrient deficiency. Deficiencies in iron, zinc, iodine, vitamins A, B12 and D are widespread in both underdeveloped and developing countries, especially among women and children. These deficiencies occur not only in people who are underweight but also in people who are overweight and obese. Many traditional and underutilized crops such as these are rich in micronutrients and can help add essentials back into our increasingly oversimplified diets. 

2. They safeguard our agriculture – By relying on so few crops to feed the majority of the world, we leave ourselves vulnerable to one disease or pest destroying a large part of our food systems. Monocropping, growing just one type of crop, is particularly prone to devastation, reduced yields and soil degradation. Relying on a greater number of crops that are valued and appreciated on the global market, means that farmers have more options of what to grow and how to inter-plant their fields. These make for more sustainable food production systems and stop the spread of some pests and disease infestations.

3. They beat climate change at its own game – Traditional crops are particularly useful as many have climate-resistant properties, like being able to survive floods or droughts. They can also grow in some types of climates in which other “standard” crops cannot grow. Cactus pear grows in deserts and arid areas, oca and quinoa survive at high altitudes and some breadfruit varieties even thrive in sandy or saline soils. With desertification a growing challenge and climate extremes becoming more frequent, these crops are solutions for places where it is difficult to grow any other food.

4. They keep traditional knowledge alive – It is not just traditional crops that are being ignored, it is the traditional way of growing and harvesting them. Indigenous peoples, for example, have used many agricultural methods, terracing is one of these, that are naturally sustainable i.e. making better use of water, requiring little to no fertilizers or helping replenish the soil, as some examples. Going into a future where we need to grow more food for more people on the planet, we need to make sustainability our new way of life, and these traditional methods are valuable tools in this approach.

5. They can boost the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and local producers – Some traditional crops have good commercial potential and could be an excellent cash crop for a small scale or family farmers. Quinoa, as one example, used to be a subsistence crop in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, but because of increased visibility and attracted interest, production almost tripled between 1992 and 2010. It is now grown in over 70 countries. In addition, traditional crops, like pulses, are also useful for intercropping and actually increase yields of other crops, helping to raise incomes for farmers and their families.

Next time you are in a local market, instead of gravitating towards the same fruits and vegetables, look around for ones that you don’t normally notice and try something new. You can diversify your own diet while starting to shine the light on some of these forgotten foods. Let’s start to know what we have been missing. 

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India Sheds Its Defensiveness Towards the Middle East

The key to Modi’s success in the Muslim neighbourhood has been the decision to focus on India’s national self-interest rather than religion. The evident transformation of India’s engagement with the Middle East is now clear. Under Modi, India has shed its traditional defensiveness towards the region. The Middle East, in turn, has responded with great enthusiasm to India’s new pragmatism.
That brings us to a paradox. The significant expansion of India’s engagement with the Muslim neighbourhood comes at a time when religious nationalism has sharpened domestic political divisions. While the ruling party has been accused of fomenting Hindu majoritarianism, some of the more important diplomatic successes of the Modi government have been with Muslim countries. Within the Subcontinent, Afghanistan and Bangladesh see India as a valuable partner and their engagement with India has gained a strong foundation. Both Kabul and Dhaka have better relations with Delhi than with Islamabad. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation invited India’s Minister for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj to address a meeting of its foreign ministers in the face of Pakistan’s strong objections.
India’s relations with Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have never been better than today. At the same time, the last four years have seen progress in implementing strategic projects like the Chabahar port in Shia Iran. Modi has also brought out India’s longstanding partnership with Israel from behind the veil. There have been few objections from the Arab or Muslim world.
One would think Pakistan would be the last government that wants welcome Modi’s return to power. But as Prime Minister Imran Khan put it, a strong government under Modi may be more credible interlocutor than a weak coalition government.
While Manmohan Singh could not convince the Congress party of the wisdom of him travelling to Pakistan during his decade-long tenure as PM, Modi was prepared to show up in Lahore on a few hours notice at the end of 2015. That the relationship has gone nowhere is another story. But the pertinent point is the impression that Modi is confident enough to wage either war or peace.
The key to Modi’s success in the Muslim neighbourhood has been the decision to focus on India’s national self-interest rather than religion. When he came to Delhi in 2014, Modi found the relations with Bangladesh at a difficult juncture. The Manmohan Singh government had negotiated the important agreement on resolving the land boundary dispute with Bangladesh in 2011. But the Congress could not get it ratified in the Parliament.
To his credit, Modi persuaded the BJP units in Assam and Bengal to stop opposing the agreement and got it ratified by the Parliament. He was also quick to accept an award of the international tribunal on the maritime boundary dispute with Dhaka. It was certainly possible to quibble over the technical details of an award that went largely in favour of Bangladesh.
Contrast this with Modi’s difficulties with Nepal, the world’s only Hindu nation that Modi likes to call “devabhumi” — the land of the gods. Yet, Modi’s tenure saw the tensions between the two countries spike.
There is no doubt that most countries love to demonstrate solidarity with other states and peoples on the basis of shared political values, common religious faith or ethnic kinship. Yet, this empathy is more often than not discarded when a government has to choose between national interest and external solidarity. There is no better example than Pakistan’s muted voice on China’s current controversial treatment of the Muslim population in the Xinjiang province. For Islamabad, the logic of strategic partnership with Beijing is far more compelling than the declared commitment to take up Muslim causes around the world.
In the Middle East, the fear of Iran’s expansionism and potential hegemony has driven Saudi Arabia and the UAE into political collaboration with the Jewish state of Israel. Much in the manner that communist ideology was not strong enough to bind Soviet Union and China in the 1960s and 1970s, religion has never been a sticky enough glue for Muslim majority nations.
While the proposition that national interest trumps all else appears self-evident, it was not easy for Independent India to operate on that premise. The partition of the Subcontinent and Pakistan’s claim to speak in the name of Islam and its relentless efforts to mobilise the Islamic world in its favour on disputes with India complicated Indian diplomacy. It has been a rather long learning curve for Delhi to separate presumed transcendental religious solidarity and the logic of national self-interest in engaging the Middle East.
Complicating the Pakistan factor outside has been Delhi’s concern about the reaction of its large Muslim population at home on foreign policy issues, especially those relating to the Middle East. The idea that India’s relationship with Israel or the United States matters more to the Indian Muslims than securing their rights as citizens has always been a political myth of Lutyens’ Delhi.
In the end, what matters in foreign policy is not the colour of national ideology or the flag of its faith. Internal coherence and the capacity for practical give and take are the factors that count. Diversity, along multiple axes, has been India’s greatest structural vulnerability. Anything that deepens those faultlines will inevitably undermine, over the longer term, Delhi’s ability to effectively engage the world.

UK liberalism, is this the endgame?

I’m pretty psyched. Horace Panter, aka ‘Sir Horace Gentleman’, bassist of legendary post-punk ska band and anti-fascist activists The Specials, just ‘liked’ one of my social media posts. The band has just shot to No.1 with its first album, Encore, in 38 years. In the late 1970s, The Specials were the voice of disenfranchised youth, the voice of social conscience, peace and reconciliation in an extremely polarized society. So little wonder that they’ve returned now, almost 40 years later, to speak out again.

I thought we’d kicked the Brexit can far enough down the road to give us a breather from the political chaos that has engulfed the UK for the last three years. However, with the launch of the populist nationalist Brexit Party last week, I believe we have entered a whole new and far more dangerous phase in UK politics. For first time in living memory (certainly my memory), we face the very real prospect of a far-right government in the UK and all that it entails. The biggest frustration is that centrist liberals have been co-conspirators, unwittingly allowing the ultra right wing free passage back into mainstream politics.

The Referendum was never about the EU. It was about the old guard seizing back power. In truth, the hard right (Farage, Rees Mogg, Francois et al) played a blinder by forcing David Cameron into the ill-conceived ballot. This was was only the step one though. Merely a tool to create deep divisions in the community. The UK is no longer north versus south, moderate left versus moderate right, rich versus poor. Now we are (passionately) Leave versus Remain, (angrily) People’s Vote versus no People’s Vote, (jingoistically) local versus immigrant. Remainers provided almost zero resistance in 2016, not even bothering to run a coherent pro-EU campaign, having presumed common sense would prevail. Well, it rarely does and unfortunately we have been enjoying the fruits of our apathy ever since.

Step two of the master plan: set up a new political party in the midst of all this ensuing mess just in time to contest local elections, EU elections and a possible general election. Leave voters now have a focal party and a single cause around which to coalesce. The Remain camp in the meantime is rudderless, in disarray and essentially politically homeless. Our choices are: 1) a Conservative Party which remains hell bent on forcing parliament to approve a withdrawal deal no one wants; 2) the Labour Party which seems unable to deliver any clear policy view on the EU or back a second referendum; and the LibDems (the only main party to state in its manifesto that it would simply revoke Article 50) who remain persona non grata to the public after its 2010 failure to deliver on its promise to eradicate college fees as part of the coalition government. The arrival of The Independent Group, the newly established refuge for the liberally minded and politically destitute, has only made matters worse as they scrap with the LibDems for voters.

Farage says, “we will give you Brexit”. He doesn’t say how (the party doesn’t even have a published manifesto) but that doesn’t matter. Its genius is in its simplicity. Short on detail, high on rhetoric, the Brexit Party is currently leading in the polls for the May EU elections with a projected 28% of vote and is in third place for a possible UK general election with 14% – and it’s only been a week since they came into being.

Farage may have cleverly distanced himself from his old party (UKIP) and its openly anti-Islamic and anti-immigration agenda (a party candidate once suggested that Indians be paid cash to repatriate) to legitimize himself but his continued use of scapegoats (mainly immigrants from places like Syria) to blame for economic hardship and his use of emotive language about “the betrayal of the people”, “the betrayal of democracy” and “national humiliation” at the hands of the “establishment” (which curiously this multi-millionaire ex-banker doesn’t see himself as a part of) come straight out of the traditional fascist almanac. He and his colleagues, who would happily watch the current world order burn to the ground, talk of the UK’s membership agreement of the EU as though they were talking of the Treaty of Versailles and our contributions to the EU budget as if they were post war reparation payments – ring any bells? Farage is staunchly anti-immigration, anti-environmentalism and (like his best bud Trump) anti-globalisation. Should there be any further lingering doubts about what the Brexit Party stands for, there has already been several senior resignations on the back of anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic social media comments. And I say again, it’s only been a week!

We’re in the endgame now in the fight of our lives (I had to get an Avengers reference in somewhere). While it’s heartening to see parliamentarians boycotting Trump’s planned UK state dinner in protest of his misogynistic and xenophobic rhetoric, I can’t help but feel that these are potentially the death throws of liberal government in the UK.

The plain truth is that liberals must unite and coalesce behind one of the main parties to make sure the maths doesn’t go against us – and the only viable choice is Labour (as the best of a bad bunch). Remain campaigners must start herding its supporters into one coherent, cohesive group otherwise the right threatens all that post war Britain has become – a beacon of multiculturalism, openness, fairness and economic success.

The Darker Side of Darkness

The dark blurs not just the senses and our responses, but also our principles and code of ethics.

The darkness of the night brings its own brand of intoxication. As the day’s pressures relax, your defenses are lowered. Darkness brands you with a sense of obscureness, and you are more likely to say or do things that you wouldn’t in full daylight.

How many times have you woken up the morning after to regret the impact of the night? You made a confession, said something or crossed a line that you would never have in full daylight! Late at night as you binge watch a TV series, read an exciting book, work on office mails or projects, chat with a friend or argue, your responses or decisions are not likely to have the same sharpness as at daytime.

Even more worrisome, your sense of discipline, your principles and your code of ethics – all seem to take on a blurry edge as the mind and body dull with the darker hours. Your alertness and performance are influenced by exposure to light and are dependent on the bodily circadian rhythm. Your amount of wakefulness, fatigue levels and your mind’s alertness all have an impact on not just decision making but also on your strength and ability to stand by your principles. As the American photographer Yousuf Karsh said, “Character like a photograph develops in darkness.”

Darkness gives us a sense of anonymity that promotes unethical behavior. Not all can stay as true to their moral compass when there is lesser fear of discovery. Darkness fools our minds into believing that we are unseen, invisible. An experiment conducted to study if dishonesty increases in the dark concluded that it does promote morally questionable behavior. The experimenters explained that when people experience impaired vision due to darkness, they conclude others also find it difficult to see them.

In a variation of the same experiment, interestingly, dark glasses also affected the ethical behavior of those wearing them! Their darkened vision led them to believe others couldn’t see them clearly either!

Nighttime was never meant for communication or for work. It is the time when all defenses down, you are safe back home amongst people you trust and who believe in you. As light lessens, the body’s master clock, which receives direct input from the eyes, tells the brain to increase the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy, and to lower core body temperatures. It is the time to let the day’s stress slide away and relax into the darkness for rest and rejuvenation. Your defenses are down.

That is how it is with animals and was with humans as well till we discovered that we could create light to dispel darkness. And now, technology enables us to work at full optimum during night hours too. As the body struggles against its natural cycle, our brains may not yet have developed the new abilities needed to navigate darkness. In the dark hours, our brain struggles to work at full optimum.

And so there are as many reasons to fear the dark as to welcome it. But then as Francis Bacon said, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” Which is why the path to all light is through darkness.

Darkness exists only when there is no light and is dispelled the moment we switch it on. Meditation encourages you to seek light through the act of closing your eyes (which creates darkness). When the light of peace and happiness shines, quite often we respond by closing our eyes in prayer. In the light of God, we shut our eyes in reverence to assimilate that light within us. In the words of the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, “The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all the darkness.”

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When Light is put away…

The Bravest grope a little  
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead 
But as they learn to see

Either the Darkness alters  
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight 
And Life steps almost straight. 

– We Grow Accustomed to the Dark by Emily Dickinson

Genetics is bad news for the politics of identity-Indians are migrants

Many pundits predict that the approaching 2019 election is likely to focus on identity politics primarily because of economic discontent, making BJP turn to identity and other non-economic issues. Before we are engulfed in election rhetoric this may be a good time to pause, sit back and ask – who after all, are we Indians? What are our origins? What should be a straightforward matter of factual evidence has grown into a contentious debate in recent years.

So far, theories about how Indians were formed were based on linguistic analysis and archaeology. Based on the similarity of European and Indian languages, colonial Indologists (and Nazis) propagated the Aryan invasion theory in which blue-eyed fair people swept into the Indian subcontinent on horses, conquering everyone along the way. The Hindu Right has retorted, claiming that Indo-European languages originated in India and spread westwards. There are also theories about the Indus Valley people: were they connected to the Dravidians who were pushed south by the Aryans or were they Aryans who moved southwards?

Startling answers have come in the last decade, the latest from last year’s study co-authored by 92 scientists from around the world, coordinated by David Reich, who runs a lab at Harvard that analyses ancient DNA. It has changed the way historians think about our early history. There is tremendous excitement, not unlike the exhilaration in the 1920s and 1930s when archaeologists discovered Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Valley Civilisation. Tony Joseph, a journalist, has just written a remarkable book, Early Indians, narrating this story. Its conclusion is that we are all migrants and we are all mixed.

Many of us believe that we have always lived on the subcontinent from the beginning of time. This is not true. The new science of population genetics, which uses ancient DNA from skeletons thousands of years old, has made dramatic breakthroughs and we Indians can now trace our ancestry back to around 65,000 years ago when a band of modern humans, or homo sapiens, first made their way from Africa into the subcontinent.

They crossed from Africa to Asia and walked along the coast of southern Asia and all the way to Australia, while another group went towards central Asia and Europe. The genetic ancestry of these First Indians constitutes 50-65% of our DNA today. Thus, ‘pure Indians’ never really existed. All human beings are descended from Africa.

After this first migration, apparently there were three more waves of major migrations into India and the new migrants mixed with the local population. Interestingly, as early as 20,000 years ago, the subcontinent had the world’s largest human population. The second major migration occurred 9,000 to 5,000 years ago, when agriculturists from Iran’s Zagros region moved into India’s northwest and mixed with the First Indians to create probably the Harappan people and later the urban Indus Valley civilisation.

The Harappan people moved south and mixed with the local people to produce what geneticists call Ancestral South Indians with a culture based on Dravidian languages. A third farming related migration occurred around 2000 BC when migrants from the Chinese heartland swamped south-east Asia and reached India, bringing the Austroasiatic family of languages (such as Mundari and Khasi spoken in eastern and central India.) The fourth migration took place between 2000 and 1000 BC soon after the Indus Valley civilisation collapsed. It brought central Asian pastoralists from the Kazakh Steppe, who spoke an Indo-European language.

The study of ancient DNA is a new, evolving science and more findings are expected. But so far, the genetic evidence confirms the old colonial hypothesis that Indo-European language speakers, who called themselves Aryans, did migrate to India when the Indus Valley civilisation came to an end, bringing with them an early version of Sanskrit and they mixed with the Harappans to create the ancestral north Indian population. It was not the other way around as the Hindu Right has argued. What is surprising is that the Harappans may also have a foreign connection, although much before their urban civilisation came about.

For some reason the vigorous mixing of people came to an end around 100 AD in India (but not in the rest of the world.) Thus, differences between people have increased in the last 2000 years in India. The only explanation seems to be that after 100 AD the caste system became rigid. Because marriage was confined within a jati group, genetic differences increased even though people lived side by side in the same village. In contrast, the Chinese continued mixing freely and they are a homogeneous Han people today while Indians are diverse and ‘composed of a large number of small populations’, writes Reich.

Enterprising readers of this article can order a DNA kit from various online sites such as Mapmygenome or 23andMe and confirm their identity. They will find half their DNA comes from First Indians who came out of Africa with various proportions of Harappan, Aryan, and other DNA. We are all mixed and we are all descended from a single woman in Africa, having left behind ancestors in Ethiopia, Middle East, central Asia and other places.

It is futile to obsess over purity and pollution because we are a product of what Rushdie called ‘chutnification’ through waves of migrations and minglings in prehistory. It is splendid how science has confirmed the statement of the Maha Upanishad: Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, ‘the whole world is a family’, which is also engraved at the entrance hall of our Parliament. But the unity of the human race is bad news for the politics of identity and difference.

Celebrating Differences

“Variety is the spice of life”- a common saying which infers that breaking the monotony in and every field can make life interesting, energetic and liveable. In the journey of life, one has to cross many milestones, calling for adaptations by the mind, body and in spirit.

As the journey of life goes on what happens, that during this journey one finds himself trapped in conflicts leading to strained relationships resulting in breaks ups, divorce, separations etc.

By virtue of birth an individual is endowed with the emotions of compassion, love, joy, fear, anger, hatred etc. During the growing up process a boy and a girl’s external environment subjects them to differential treatments. Nature and nurture play a pivotal role in dominating the emotions of aggression, dominance, anger, love and care in boys and on the other hand the feelings of compassion, love, cooperation, adjustments are nurtured in girls from the early years of life.

Caring for others, adjustments, sacrificing one’s desires for the happiness of the family has been so strongly embedded in our culture which is taught to the girl as soon as she steps out of the crib. Dolls and kitchen sets make up her toy room. Speak softly, act curtly, listen to others, behave ladylike, learn to adjust, are the skill sets, which the entire family and school is set to inculcate in her. This is done with an aim that she will contribute and give back to society by raising a happy and balanced family, thereby further strengthening the social fabric.

The other side of the coin sees the boys are guided to be tough, guns and bats make up for their toys. “Boys don’t cry” is ingrained right from the time they are toddlers. Exhibition of strong emotions is utilised while handling and shaping the character of boys. A sense of competition, do not give up attitude, leadership qualities, you are the best type of personality traits are developed in the boys aiming that he will be the responsible head, bread winner and supporter of the family.

The above makes it evident that the kind of characteristics boys and girls are brought up with is sufficient for a person to be happy individually. But when it comes to companionship and marital relations, a union of not only two individuals but also two families, somehow the balance does not set right. The happy dreams of love and bliss in marriage starts taking an ugly turn and marriages instead of becoming a ‘bed of roses’, results in a ‘bed of thorns’.

A deeper introspection into the increased cases of marital discord going around highlights aspects like expectations, lack of care, communication issues, lack of feelings, in a mixed bag.

Most of the times when entering into the nuptial bond a girl secretly harbours  feelings of liberty, financial control and freedom, expectations of expressions of love and care continuously from her partner, being able to be the decision maker or the boss of her nest and an opportunity to carve an identity for herself. These are the aspects she has been deprived of in her guarded maiden home.

The boy on the other hand is happy to shoulder the new responsibility without giving much thought into the intricacies of interpersonal relationship. He feels that the duties of the girl is same as his mother, to feed, take care of the needs of the husband, bear and rear children and if she is capable to work  then earn and manage personal and professional life with a smile.

It is encouraging to see the new age adults with an openness of mind, greater capabilities and higher achievement orientation. The shortcoming however in them irrespective of the gender is their lower tolerance level, inability to understand each other’s aspect, lack of communication and a great expectation that the partner should understand their views without them being explicit.

It is worth a mention here that no individual can live in isolation. According to Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs, the basic need of a person is LOVE. If the love and companionship is missing, it will have a direct impact on their professional life and on mental and physical health as well. This becomes a vicious circle which needs to be broken for a healthier society.

The sunshine aspect here is, it is not difficult as today’s generation has greater cognitive skills. If they develop  a little openness, ability to empathise with the partner and are ready to share and care and CELEBRATE DIFFERENCES the home will be heaven on earth

Pyongyang’s Adroit Diplomatic Move: Kim-Putin Summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin again demonstrates Pyongyang’s nimbleness on the nuclear issue. The Kim-Putin summit comes after the second Kim-Donald Trump summit bombed in Hanoi last February. There, after much fanfare, the North and the US were found to be too far apart in the approaches to Korean denuclearisation. While the US said that the North wanted economic sanctions against it lifted in their entirety – which was unacceptable for Washington – Pyongyang insisted that it had only wanted a partial lifting of sanctions in exchange for dismantling all production of plutonium and uranium.

In any case, the second Kim-Trump summit highlighted the fundamental differences between Pyongyang’s and Washington’s positions. Washington wants Pyongyang to dismantle first, whereas Pyongyang wants Washington to lift sanctions first. In fact, Pyongyang believed that it had already taken the first goodwill steps by announcing a moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile testing. But Washington insisted that the sanctions would remain in place unless there was verifiable evidence that Pyongyang was dismantling its nuclear programme.

But that is simply unacceptable for the North. The latter has sacrificed a lot for its nuclear programme, sustaining it despite harsh international sanctions. It would be an insult to several generations of North Koreans and their leaders if Pyongyang were to just give up its nukes without firm guarantees. I believe that Kim does want to make a deal. After all, the situation that the North is saddled with is difficult to say the least. The people of that country have really suffered under sanctions. But Kim is looking at the situation from the perspective of a politician. He invests tremendous resources to maintain control over his country. And yet he is fearful of a rebellion or a coup against his regime.

This tense situation will remain for him as long as things are not normalised for ordinary North Koreans. And that won’t happen until the sanctions are eased. Then there is the question of security of the Stalinist regime. What if the North gives up its nukes and it is then invaded by the US along with South Korea – or even Japan – in the future? Pyongyang has seen what happened to Libya after Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear programme. And finally, what guarantee is there that the US will stick to its word? After all, Washington unilaterally reneged on the Iran nuclear deal despite Tehran observing every stipulation that was demanded of it. Today, the Trump administration is looking at re-imposing strict secondary sanctions on anyone doing business with Iran, including purchasing its oil.

Thus, for Kim to give up his nukes he would require both – hard security guarantees (read removing the US nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan) and meaningful lifting of sanctions. This, Kim believes, is fair because Pyongyang will be giving up its biggest asset. Plus, removing the US nuclear umbrella over Japan and South Korea and providing sanctions relief will also ensure his regime survives. In that sense, the Kim family has successfully tied up its fate with that of the fate of North Korea itself.

So where does Russia fit in? Kim has already had meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and his country and China share a close, historical relationship. But Kim is not blind to Chinese realpolitik. Beijing would like a pliant leader in Pyongyang. Besides, China is helping the North because it doesn’t want the latter to collapse – this would see a flood of refugees come into China, and US and South Korean troops could take the opportunity to advance right up to the Chinese border. What China ideally wants is for the North to become a ‘subservient buffer state’ from the buffer state it already is. Hence, Kim knows that China’s support is partly conditional and partly based on compulsion. It needs to be reminded here that Beijing too wants denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula but hopes this will result in the North becoming China’s vassal state.

So Kim tried to do a deal with Trump. It was a long-shot but nonetheless the two summits with Trump ended Kim’s diplomatic isolation. So on that score, Pyongyang has had a small victory. Kim’s first summit meeting with Putin now is designed to show that Pyongyang has friends besides Beijing. And Putin said after the meeting that Kim needs international security guarantees if he is to end his nuclear programme. That’s the language Pyongyang would like to hear. Putin further added that such guarantees for the North would need to be offered within a multinational framework. Even better, since today a deal with just the US is no longer iron-clad as Iran has found out. If multinational stakeholders stand guarantors for the security of the North regime, then Kim can ensure his own survival and get an economic deal for his countrymen. I don’t know if the resumption of six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme can achieve this. Perhaps a new multilateral format can be explored.

Sunday Special: Five Innovations That Advanced Women’s Rights

From the internet to the bicycle, here are just a handful of innovations we take for granted today that have shaped the lives of women and girls worldwide.

Hippo Roller

Access to clean water is a human necessity. You need it to drink, clean, cook, bathe and more. Yet, today 2.1 billion people — around 30 per cent of the world’s population — lack access to safe, readily available water at home. Unfortunately, for the millions of women and girls at the heart of the water crisis, especially in rural areas, the burden of fetching water falls disproportionately on them. This means an increased risk of violence in often treacherously long journeys to fetch water, and time taken away from other activities, such as income-generating work and school or even leisure and play — all of which prevents women and girls from living a full life.

In an attempt to ease the strain and time involved to get water in tough rural conditions, two South Africans in the early 1990s invented the Aqua Roller, now commonly known as the Hippo Roller. A portable barrel-shaped drum container that rolls on the ground, the Hippo Roller can carry up to five times more water than a single bucket.

To date, the invention has changed the lives of half a million people across more than 20 countries. While not a permanent solution to the water crisis, it along with other innovative solutions, such as the personal water filter LifeStraw, are noteworthy endeavors improving the lives of women and girls in rural communities.

Bicycle

A symbol of “free, untrammeled womanhood” as American women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony so eloquently put it, the bicycle gave women newfound freedom of movement, challenged stereotypes around women’s physical strength and transformed dress codes.

Coinciding with the first wave of feminism, the invention of the modern bicycle, as we know it today, by an English engineer in the 1880s came about as an alternative to the now impractical penny-farthing that consisted of a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel. While not necessarily invented for women in mind, the bicycle ironically gave women independence: In some regions of the world at the time, this meant women could move around freely without having to rely on chaperones, carriages or horseback.

Of course, it did not come without backlash: Women were warned riding bicycles was “immoral” and doctors even went so far as to say that it could lead to a terrifying medical condition called bicycle face — a special risk to women’s appearance and complexion. As wild myths circulated and the bicycle took off in popularity, women did not back down. Victorian women and reformists alike called for more rational clothing and baggier undergarments to ride bikes. And others, such as Annie Londonderry, a Latvian immigrant to the United States, challenged prevailing perceptions of femininity by becoming the first woman to ride around the world in a bicycle from 1894 to 1895. More than a century later, the race for equality still continues.

Internet

Similar to the advent of the printer, radio, television, and phone, the internet has revolutionized how women and girls live their lives. Whether through websites, social media, instant messaging or email, it has opened up avenues for online activism, community-building, career opportunities and learning, increased awareness and engagement around women’s rights issues, and enabled women to set up businesses, political campaigns and more.

From #MeToo to #NiUnaMenos to #TimesUp, social media movements, in particular, have exposed gender inequalities and violence against women unlike ever before and put pressure on public and private officials to enact change. Like any technology, the internet has its dark side: Offline inequalities, including misogyny, stalking, hate, harassment and trafficking, have permeated online. Misinformation on women’s rights threatens to roll back rights.

And, for 49 per cent of the world’s population without access to the internet, the digital gap leaves the poorest and most vulnerable in the dark and without the adequate skills and education needed to survive in today’s rapidly evolving tech-enabled economy. Addressing this divide will be critical in the years to come.

Sanitary Pad

What if you had to use wool, moss, animal skin, old rags, newspapers or a sanitary belt for your periods? If it seems outlandish, it is — along with the more outlandish myths that women on their periods should be in solitary confinement, are dirty, can make food rot or even get eaten by sharks while swimming. Yet, it was only more than a century ago that nurses in France created the first disposable sanitary pads, incidentally to control excessive bleeding among male soldiers.

By the end of the 19th Century, the first commercially available disposable pads came out but took several decades before they evolved to become somewhat more practical for women to use and acquire (if you could afford it). The breakthrough invention improved women and girls’ hygiene and health, school attendance, livelihoods, and economic opportunities. Yet, today, in spite of some efforts, sanitary pads still remain out of reach for millions of women and girls living in poverty and are taxed in several countries around the globe, including as a “luxury” item.

Access aside, periods still remain a taboo topic. Stigma and discrimination surrounding menstruation prevents women and girls in some countries from entering physical spaces, such as their home, school, work or place of worship. If only there was an invention that could wipe out discrimination against women…

Pants

From pink hats to pantsuits, women’s clothes have the power to challenge stereotypes, transform notions of gender identity and symbolize resistance and power. And, well, sometimes it just boils down to practicality. Try riding a bike in a 15-pound Victorian dress. Pants would make sense, right? Well, not so much for sticklers reinforcing what a women’s place should be.

In fact, the evolution of pants is a fascinating look into how fashion, feminism and sexism are inextricably linked. Take, for example, the iconic French war heroine Joan of Arc who famously cross-dressed in men’s armour, tunics and hoses. When burned at the stake as a heretic by the English in 1431, what was one of the most damaging charges against her? Wearing men’s clothes.

Fast forward centuries later, women faced backlash for wearing baggy pants in the 19th Century and arrest for wearing such garments into the turn of the 20th Century. Like much of history, reality dictates fashion and fashion pushes boundaries: World War I and II, for instance, drove women to wear pants as they took on traditionally male jobs.

As the world of work changed for millions of women, pioneers such as French designer Coco Chanel rocked the fashion world by laying the foundations for the pantsuit, a two-piece garment that post-war women entering the workforce adopted and today is a power symbol. And, for the millions of women in poverty working the fields or factories today, wearing looser, more traditionally male clothes is not so much a fashion statement but a necessity to be mobile, earn a living and put food on the table. 

Chanakya’s Total Rejection of the Idea of Bureaucracy

Most countries face a strange situation, as governance fails in two key aspects. In former colonies like India, the policies are based on the failed economic system of socialism and we follow the British imperial administrative system of district magistrates and the IAS, which was designed to control, suppress and exploit India.

We can gain valuable insights into both these aspects by reviewing Chanakya’s Arthashastra. Without doubt, this work must rank alongside the great works of all time, particularly in the field of economics and administration. Many insights embedded long ago in Chanakya’s work were discovered by economists only over the last century.

Western economists don’t know much about Chanakya’s work .

Chanakya’s economic system is best described as well-regulated capitalism, although it had a few elements of state intervention in the economy and trade which are probably inconsistent with modern understandings of economics. However, it is very clear that his was a profit-oriented system, completely distinct from socialism. Chanakya would have chastised Indian leaders who, till today, follow a largely socialist model of economy. He would have opposed any attempt to bring about forced economic equality amongst people.

He favoured an open economy and particularly focused on imports. He wanted imported goods to be sold in as many places as possible {2.16.4 – Rangarajan’s translation}. To encourage imports of foreign goods he provided such merchants exemption from taxes and allowed them to make high profits. He recommended a regulatory system, not prohibition, for “vices” like alcohol and prostitution. And the meat of male calves, bulls and barren cows or those that died naturally was included in the many types of meats available in the Chanakyan economy.

Chanakya was a pastmaster in his understanding of governance and incentives. As Sihag notes, “Chanakya realized that the same type of material incentive might not work for the Chief of Defence and for an ordinary soldier. Accordingly, he considered many kinds of material incentives, such as efficiency wages, promotion and job tenure to match the specific needs and position of an individual employee”.

Accordingly, “he was, perhaps, the first economist who suggested payment of efficiency wages” (Sihag), the first being Robert Solow in 1979. The king paid a wage higher than the market wage to key ministers and executives so they would work honestly in order not to be removed from that job. “The highest salary paid in cash, excluding perquisites, was 48,000 panas a year and the lowest 60 panas a year. The ratio of the highest salary to the lowest, was eight hundred to one” (from Rangarajan’s translation). Chanakya made it clear that this sum was high because it would be “enough to prevent them from succumbing to the temptations of the enemy or rising up in revolt”.

“Chanakya suggested that material incentives be matched to the specific rank of the employee to elicit maximum possible effort. He suggested that the king should rely more on payment of efficiency wages to upper grade employees, such as Chief of Defence, Councilors, Chancellor, Treasurer, Auditor and Ministers. On the other hand, the king should rely more on granting promotion and job tenure to the middle and lower grades employees, awarding prizes to soldiers and giving gifts to piece-rate workers.

While a very high wage was paid in the high positions, these roles were subject to close monitoring by the king and termination, even death, for breach of trust. Chanakya discusses the active surveillance of his officials and the treatment to be meted to errant officials. This ranges from confiscation of property and dismissal, all the way to death.

Thus was India’s system of administration legendarily honest and incorruptible, as reported by many travellers into India over the past two thousand years before British rule.

Many aspects of this system are followed in some way or other in the best administrations of the world today, such as Australia and Singapore. In both cases top positions are very highly paid but held to account for results. In Australia, the positions are contractual and lower positions have greater tenure. In Singapore, the civil service stringently weeds out the poor performers.

Sadly, we continue to follow the British imperial governance system in India today. It is a uniquely unaccountable system, made worse by Part 14 of the Indian Constitution which gives the public services a special status. No other major democracy has incorporated so many protections for its public services.

When I go to the villages across India, I talk about the need to understand Chanakya’s Arthashastra. Although not everything in Arthashastra needs to be implemented exactly the way it is prescribed, there is enormous value in following the broad principles he articulates, which are very similar to those followed in the successful Western capitalist societies.

Terror Attack in Sri Lanka Analyzed

ISIS claiming responsibility for terror in Sri Lanka points to the danger of its expansion in the Subcontinent. Terror comes back to a nation that has been a victim of Tamil terrorism and a long civil war.

God has often been unkind kind to the island nation of 21 million people. Such a beautiful land and such good people but Sri Lanka seems doomed to its unfortunate fate of violence of different forms. The latest carnage involving bombings by as many as seven suspected suicide bombers, leading to over 250 fatalities at eight locations, is apparently a manifestation of some large-scale clandestine external support to a set of proxies. Since investigation is underway, there is as yet informed conjecture about the (NTJ), an Islamic entity. It is suspected to be a radical Islamist group, which came into the spotlight only in 2017 after the Buddhist radical group Bodu Bala Sena reportedly undertook a campaign against the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka. At this stage, it is sufficient to believe that religious and ethnic differences are behind the carnage. The Islamic State (IS) has lately taken responsibility. Yet, the international connection is a matter of piecing the complex jigsaw of international terror, Islamist networks, the situation post the 2009 war with LTTE and other events. How this deadly cocktail comes together to smother a quiet island nation perhaps needs deeper investigation. At this moment we can, at best, theorise.

Informed theorising can help put together motives, assess potential and piece ideas together to create a narrative. It commences with the immense potential for sectarian violence in Sri Lanka. There is the defeated LTTE, which would desire to rise again since the Tamil population remains as un-integrated and, perhaps as subjugated as it was during the 30 years of the civil war. The government has done little to prevent its resurgence and diaspora networks remain fully alive. The LTTE is expected to return one day with vengeance, but not yet. Besides, the LTTE is hardly likely to target Christians and their places of worship because many are Christians themselves. For them to act as subsidiary of another international group is least likely. International intelligence agencies including those from India had warned Sri Lanka on April 11 about the possibility of NJT undertaking some form of terrorist action around Easter.

Sri Lanka has a 7.4 per cent Muslim minority; an undetermined number are from the Wahabi sect and others are Sufis. However, in that country’s majority and hard-boiled nationalism, everyone other than Sinhala Buddhists are suspected of being anti-national. A severe trust deficit exists based upon years of internal civil war and internecine violence between various faiths and groups. As an island nation under the larger shadow of India, where 190 million Muslims reside, its sectarian tend to be ignored. It is just the kind of situation tailor made for two things; first, a demonstration of international radical extremist capability; second to send home a message that these terror networks exist across the world and mother organisations still control them. That is why the finger of suspicion points to confirmation of the IS, which has staked claim for the carnage.

After its defeat in the Middle East, the IS has made efforts towards sustaining itself in third countries or locations. Efforts are on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Southeast Asia it was the Philippines where it attempted to ride on a surrogate group such as Abu Sayyaf. In the competitive world of international terror, the IS perceives a need to continue retaining its current primacy; any leeway given to other major groups such as al Qaeda will see many years of effort in the Middle East wasted. With an intelligence appreciation, placing oneself in the shoes of IS leadership, it is not difficult to determine that with the loss at Marawi in the Philippines, little progress in Af-Pak and the recent losses at Idlib in Syria, the IS was desperate to show case itself. Targeting the Sinhala majority would be counterproductive as the retaliation from radical Sinhala groups such as Bodu Bala Sena would be intense. Targeting the Tamil community would similarly be counterproductive since the LTTE’s networks may eventually be needed. The Christian community is 9.7 per cent of the population and historically no Christian-Muslim feud exists in the island. That is all the more reason that the chances of retaliation against Muslims would be low.

A second chain of events involving bombings remains alive as per the US intelligence agencies. The IS, with its caliphate-like aspirations, would have viewed the killings at Christchurch, New Zealand as just the event to avenge with an act against Christians anywhere on the globe. Easter was the most appropriate time as was the selection of churches and five-star hotels where western tourists (again largely Christian) would be present in large numbers. The questionable part of this rationale is the short interval since the Christchurch killings — March 15 to April 22. The type of suicide bombings witnessed in Sri Lanka would have called for resource collection, planning, motivation of seven suicide bombers and very careful coordination without even an iota of a leak. Five weeks to plan is far too little time. Christchurch probably only became a justification. The IS’s organisational skills are well known. It could be deduced that the operation was in the planning stages already and given greater justification by Christchurch. It is reported that just a year ago, a cache of explosives and ammunition linked to NTJ was found just north of Colombo.

For India, it’s a narrow escape. It could well have happened in southern India but the Indian intelligence system is a reasonable dampener for the IS. Little do we realise the worth of our intelligence agencies, which have kept India safe ever since 26/11 with no major targeting outside J&K (excluding Pathankot which too is a military station). If the narrative built above is true, then the IS has obviously sneaked in through surrogate returnees who fought its cause in the Middle East. Maldives nearby too has many, Sri Lanka some. India has over a hundred, mostly logistic support personnel — many could be motivated as potential suicide bombers. With the same threat developing in J&K, these are dangerous portents. India and Sri Lanka need intense intelligence cooperation and even more an understanding of social dynamics which contribute to the hard ideologies behind such acts.

Saturday Special: Predictions Regarding in 2030

You are just waking up in the spring of 2030. Your Internet of Things bedroom opens solar powered e-windows and plays gentle music while your smart lighting displays a montage of beachfront sunrises from your recent vacation.

Your shower uses very little water or soap. It recycles your grey water and puts the excess heat back into your home’s integrated operating system. While you dress, your artificial intelligence (AI) assistant shares your schedule for the day and plays your favourite tunes.

You still start your day with caffeine but it comes from your IoT refrigerator which is capable of providing a coffeehouse experience in your home. A hot breakfast tailored to your specific nutritional needs (based on chemical analysis from your trips to the “smart toilet”) is waiting for you in the kitchen.

When it’s time to leave, an on-demand transport system has three cars waiting for you, your spouse and your kids. On the road, driverless cars and trucks move with mathematical precision, without traffic jams, routine maintenance or road rage. Accident rates are near zero.

En route, you call your R&D team, who are wrapping up a day’s work in Shanghai. Your life-sized image is projected into the China Innovation Centre and your colleagues see you as if you were sitting in the room. It’s a bit surreal for them to see you in the morning light given that it’s dark on the Bund, Shanghai’s waterfront, though the novelty fades after a few uses.

You review the day’s cloud-based data from your Shenzhen manufacturing hub, your pilot project in San Diego, and your QA team in Melbourne. The massive datasets were collected in real-time from every piece of equipment and have been beautifully summarized by your company’s AI. All these facilities are closely maintained and operated via a sophisticated predictive analytics platform.

Pleased with the team’s progress, you end the call and ease into a good book.This is the future and it will be here sooner than you think.

Here are 5 technologies that stand a good chance of impacting your daily life by the year 2030.

1. Say goodbye to your screens: Today’s virtual reality headsets are used for consumer entertainment, yet they are bulky and isolating. In the future, Light Field Displays may eliminate the need for a headset or display altogether, projecting 4D images directly onto your retinas from a point of focus. These devices may eventually be as unobtrusive as a pair of sunglasses. As next-gen “displays” replace our TVs, iPads and phone screens, the $3 trillion consumer electronics industry will reinvent itself. Manufacturing jobs, touted by politicians and lured with massive subsidies, prove useful for a time, but will ultimately be swept aside by the same processes that rendered previous jobs obsolete.

2. Say hello to your pet “Crispy”: CRISPR (Continuous Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats) is a biochemist’s way of saying that we can cheaply and reliably edit genes. Today, cat lovers crave exotic breeds, such as the toyger. Tomorrow, your family pet may be a genetically engineered tiger, yet the size of a common housecat. Should regulatory bodies ban CRISPR technologies in humans, underground labs will flourish worldwide, as parents aim to eliminate congenital genetic disorders or give their kids a heritable advantage in school and life. This will create new disparities and stigmas. Criminality and human trafficking will take on a new dimension of insidiousness when genetic identity no longer can be confirmed.

3. Biofacturing – growing organs and skyscrapers: Perhaps the single most disruptive change will follow developments in genetic engineering, as bacteria, algae and other cells become the factories of tomorrow. If you like the idea of being vegetarian, but love meat, perhaps you can be “degan” and only eat meat that was produced without killing. Today, companies like Beyond Meat and Memphis Meats are perfecting deathless protein. Imagine a guilt-free steak with beneficial omega 3 fatty acids in lieu of cholesterol. Tomorrow, products like automobile frames may be “woven” from graphene and spider silk or skyscraper frames grown from bedrock to the clouds by an array of microscopic creatures with little human intervention.

4. Ads – a necessary evil: Someone has to pay for all of this change, and it is still going to be us in the form of targeted advertising. Your communications device, or whatever replaces functions currently served by today’s cellphone, may be free or heavily subsidized. But you won’t be able to skip the latest immersive advertising, at least without paying a fee. You will be more connected than ever before, though advertisers will find clever ways to influence your behaviour, based on the same biometric technology that monitors your health.

5. The age of implantables: As our world changes, scientists believe that humans’ brains will continue to get bigger, our lifespans will increase, and our cultures will continue to evolve and merge as we adapt to new environments. Today, you can have 20/10 vision with LASIK. Tomorrow, you may add infrared zoom lenses to your vision making 20/1 vision possible (hawks are estimated to have 20/5 or 20/4 vision). Today, we have wearable devices that can detect magnetic north and give a SONAR-like capability (useful for the visually impaired). Tomorrow, you will meet your “always-on” virtual assistant. Eventually, our descendants will be unrecognizable.

Change and choices

Change may arrive as a gentle breeze or as a violent, category 5 typhoon. Geographies that embrace change will enter a new age of prosperity. They will create the jobs of the future. New household names will emerge and new titans of industry will be celebrated.

Those that cannot embrace change will stumble. Some countries have homegrown movements that are hostile to science. They fight battles of the last century, engaged in recriminations of past wrongs. They politicize science while mired in debt and financial and political paralysis. It is not hard to predict the long-term results of such actions. These countries resign their citizens to the wrath of economic stagnation.

Singing in dark times

Literature has always remained my love, despite all involvement in politics, culture, economy etc. And I find echoes of my soul in poetry. In times of amnesia and misappropriation, Asian poetry is a house of memory.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the concept of Asian poetry seems to have taken roots in many languages across Asia. It could be asserted that a new camaraderie of poetry has been created. Indian poetry, written in many languages, have been a part of this scenario.

Our times are being described as “post-truth” and “fact-free”. One of the major forms of resistance to this global trampling of truth, justice, dignity and memory is poetry. In these times, when there is a growing dominance of untruth, falsehood, amnesia and injustice, poetry still roots itself in truth and justice, in human dignity and possibility, in memory and imagination.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the concept of Asian poetry seems to have taken roots in many languages across Asia. It could be asserted that a new camaraderie of poetry has been created. Indian poetry, written in many languages, have been a part of this scenario. The traditional ways of looking at poetry have been replaced by a more inclusive approach which while retaining some of the notions of rasa theory, for instance, incorporates new notions of tensions, hidden structures, cultural memory and recall interrogative spaces and redress, autonomy of poetry vis-a-vis history and other modes of knowledge, poetry as a means of moral sustenance and survival, poetry becoming the site of selfhood and its problematics etc. It can be justifiably asserted that in the 21st century, Asian poetry is a site of identity, self-assertion and self-exploration, interrogation and conscience.

In Asia, poetry has been doing many things which it perhaps had not attempted earlier. In Alvin Pang, it tries to “lay claim to the tongue of the roots, the provenance of trees” while through Emiko Mayashita, it “rinses the leaves, the leftovers of green caterpillars”. Hasmik Simonian finds “I am too much, countless, squeezed with everything in this small belly” and Yang Lian is “refusing to let the poem sink into dead indifferent beauty”. Shahnaz Munni hopes to come to “the grief that struck no one”. Saw Wai notices that “life is driving like a train/ Tents on the left/ Buildings on the right/ Water on the left/ Earth on the right”. Nguyen Hoang Viet asks, “Who among us/Is not endowed with a human heart?” And urges that “from poetry make yourself a torch”. Najwan Darwish discerns “history’s snow that covers both the murdered and the murderers” and finds that “the seats of hope are always reserved”. Ko Un believes “my poems will have no full stops tomorrow and the days after” and accords that “I am composed of many ‘I’s/ In this world, somewhere in this world”. Thongbay Photishane finds ways to make room for each other’s hope and Kutti Revathi notes sharply “enduringly sacred God’s dirt”. Rosa Jamali finds “this weeping human child, lamenting two thousand years in my arms” and discerns “And we got used to the standstill”.

Amir Or reflects “we no longer know when/ the barbarians have come to us”. “I would change the Sun”, says Gvantsa Kereselidze. Chheangly Yeng acknowledges “at the end, all over me were inscripted names/ of those who thought I could carry their sins away”. Zebo Mirzaeva wonders, “in fact true love is in our life/ Always humbled, always oppressed’. Chador Wangmo is able to meet a woman singing, “It’s raining in my bag”. For K Satchidanandan, “A tree is a dictionary of leaves/ My branches fill with poems/ the history of clouds”. Nomaan Shauq warns “Hold tight, each one of you/snake tails of your own/Country, religion, convictions.”. In Udayan Vajpeyi, “From somewhere faraway, mother’s presence gathers close around me/spreads over my soul like a shadow”. And Sitanshu Yashaschandra looks for “secret meaning of the night”.

There are many claimants to truth, many pretenders as well. Politics, religion, science, technology, ideologies, media, etc. all claim to possess truth, many a time, aggressively, exclusively stubborn and any of these “truths” tend to create regimes of exclusivity, unquestionability and mindless following. Poetry, on the other hand, while daring to speak truth in spite of adversities, makes it participative and refuses to create any regime.

A lot of poetry these days is taking place in circumstances of mindless, murderous violence. Since poetry demolishes dichotomies between “us” and “them”, re-energising our basic humanness, it is often pitched against such violence. Because of its resistance, its courage and insistence on conscience, poetry is a genre of plurality and nonviolence.

In our post-truth times, when conscience is being pushed to the margins of irrelevance, courage has become rare, truth crowded out in a melee of lies and untruths, spirituality undermined, poetry remains a trinity of conscience, courage and truth. It has emerged as the last residence of spirituality, when almost all religions have abandoned their own spiritual concerns.

Poetry today takes place in an environment in which language is being devalued, made flat and uniform, a version of utter banality. It endeavours to keep the language alive in its intensity, moral rigour, and emotional precision and strength, in all its warm plural humanness. Poetry is an unceasing, unstoppable, interminable satyagrah against simplification, uniformity and totalisation.

In the current volatile context when almost daily “others” are being named and created, attacked and killed, poetry is a site, a space in which there are no others, “no demons, no angels in the zoo” as it were. Also, in times of amnesia and misappropriation of memory, poetry is a house of memory. It does not allow us to forget that there is a vast, beautiful, rich, intense plurality of life beyond politics, social reality, religions and media.

The Islamist Threat Nears Europe As Iran Acquires First Mediterranean Port

Iran has reportedly leased Syria’s chief commercial port in Latakia in a major step toward unifying a Shiite empire from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, posing a significant threat to both Europe and Israel.

Talks to lease the port reportedly began on February 25, when Syrian President Bashar Assad made an unannounced visit to Tehran. Assad insisted that Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds “Jerusalem” Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps IRGC), attend all the meetings. Suleimani’s presence suggests that the Quds Force will either partially or completely oversee the port’s operation.

The agreement officially grants the Islamic Republic of Iran the use of the port of Latakia for economic purposes only. According to the Asia Times, however, once they take control of the port, “nothing prevents them from transforming it into a military facility.” The acquisition of its first Mediterranean port fulfills a goal Iran has had for decades.

According to Critical Threats, Assad leased the Syrian port to an unnamed IRGC-affiliate company. The Jerusalem Post reported that IRGC-affiliated companies have already begun to ship goods through the port. This move suggests that Iran will use the port, not only for economic purposes, but also as a means of smuggling arms into Syria. The 23-warehouse port is capable of handling 3 million tons of cargo a year. It would be easy for Iran to smuggle weapons through this busy commercial hub.

Critical Threats stated that Latakia’s port provides “a vital medium for illicit trade and smuggling” that will help Iran mitigate the economic hardships it is facing as a result of United States sanctions. As the Syrian civil war begins to abate, any future humanitarian aid could flow through the Latakia port, a lucrative opportunity for Iran as the port’s operator.

On January 28, Iranian Vice President Eshagh Jahangir finalized several major economic agreements with Syria. IRGC-affiliated companies received contracts for housing, infrastructure and power plant development. Jahangir also discussed linking Latakia with Iran’s railway infrastructure. The proposed route would run through the Syrian city of Abu Kamal, located just south of the Al-Qaim border crossing with Iraq, which is currently in negotiations to be reopened.

The construction of this railway would be a clear indication that Iran has unified Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the vast swath of land inhabited by Shiites often known as the Shia Crescent.

Geopolitical Futures editor in chief George Friedman wrote: The Iranians were thus one country away from having an empire stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean—which would make them the dominant country in the region, more powerful than the fragmented Sunni nations. The one country missing in the Iranian project was Syria.

Iran is getting dangerously close to seizing control of Syria. In many ways, Syria is a failed state. The Syrian government is not able to control its own territory without Iranian military backing and economic support.

Iran’s strategy to control the Shia Crescent is a crucial step toward Iran’s primary goal of conquering Jerusalem.

In the background of this project is Suleimani, who has been instrumental in Iran’s strategy to conquer Jerusalem. For more information about how this man has shaped Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East, listen to our podcast “General Qassem Suleimani—The Point of Iran’s Spear.”

Iran has nearly united the Shia Crescent. Even if the railway doesn’t get built, Iran’s acquisition of the Latakia port should strike fear throughout the region. Establishing a foothold on the Mediterranean gives Iran another front for attacking Israel and the capability to threaten Europe’s soft underbelly.

Israel’s Northern Threat

One aspect of Iran’s prophesied “push” revolves around its desire to conquer Jerusalem. Even the name of its Quds Force reveals its intentions. In Arabic, Quds means “Jerusalem.” One way Iran puts pressure on Jerusalem is through ballistic missile development.

Hirsh Goodman, a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and former vice president of the Jerusalem Post, writes in his 2011 book The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival: The focus of Assad’s force-building, however, has been missile acquisition, anti-aircraft missiles to blunt the force of the Israeli Air Force, and offensive long- and medium-range missiles to leapfrog the Golan Heights and Israel’s ground forces and cause major damage to Israel’s heartland.

Already this has begun to have an effect. In February, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that Israel discovered that Iran was operating a precision missile factory near Latakia. Last September, another site in Syria resembling Iran’s Parchin facility, which was linked to Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs, appeared in satellite images taken by ImageSat International. Israel did not launch an air strike on this facility because of a nearby Russian S-400 system, one of the best air defense systems in the world.

Increased military support to Hezbollah and Syria from Iran through the proposed rail line or Latakia’s port could spark a conflict between Israel and Lebanon–Syria. Israel can’t afford to sit back and let Iran surround it. An increase in the frequency of Israeli air strikes could provoke Hezbollah and Syria to attack Israel.

Goodman writes that if Israel is attacked, it will “launch a massive counterstrike with cruise missiles and drones on hundreds of predetermined targets with pinpoint accuracy.” He states that the Israeli government made it clear to Assad that, should Israel be attacked, Alawite rule “will be removed from Syria for generations to come.”.

This could occur in a few different ways. As Goodman states, Israel could finally eliminate the threat by removing the Shiite Alawites from power in Syria and the Hezbollah terrorists from Lebanon; whereas Friedman believes that “having saved Assad, it’s now time for the Russians to move the Iranians out of Syria and deny them their empire.”

Syria would quickly cave in if Iran were beaten or forced to stop supporting terrorism. So would other Islamic nations. … Can Israel win its war against terrorism? Iran and other nations keep arming the endless stream of terrorists. The only way to turn it around is to stop Iran.

Changing Sides

On Sept. 15, 2018, Reuters reported that German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen “said she could not rule out a longer-term deployment of German forces in the Middle East.”

On February 15 this year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials were calling for Europe to increase the number of troops deployed in Syria. The Pentagon outlined a proposed plan in which European countries, especially France and Germany, would commit a total of 1,500 soldiers, while the U.S. kept about 200 soldiers in Syria.

Both Lebanon and Syria are mentioned in this confederation of Arab nations. Anciently, the Hagarenes were the people inhabiting the desert region between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates River, the territory of modern-day Syria. Gebal refers to the port of Byblos, locally known as Jbeil in Arabic. Both Byblos and Tyre are Lebanese port cities that will align themselves with Assyria, modern-day Germany.

Germany has already begun to make inroads into these two nations. In April 2017, von der Leyen called for a United Nations humanitarian and reconstruction mission to Syria once the civil war ended. After the U.S., Germany is the second-largest financial supporter of Lebanon.

As Iran seeks to grab its first port on the Mediterranean Sea, watch for it to continue to rise in power. This is only the first step. Iran wants to project more power in the Mediterranean. Recent upgrades to its submarines and destroyers indicate that Iran is expanding its naval power. As Iran grows stronger and pushes harder against Europe, watch for a German-led Europe to become increasingly involved in the Middle East.

Iran may not be successful in gaining control of Syria, but it will continue to push for access to the Mediterranean. 

Weekend Special: Four Ancient Civilisations Destroyed by Climate Change

Ignorant, malign and evil. This is some of the unapologetically harsh criticism directed at climate change deniers by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Her point is as simple as it is blunt: “Climate change undermines the enjoyment of the full range of human rights – from the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. It is an injustice that the people who have contributed least to the causes of the problem suffer the worst impacts of climate change.”

It is widely accepted that the Earth’s climate is in a near-constant state of flux. There have been seven ice age cycles, featuring the expansion and contraction of glaciers, over the last 650,000 years. The last major ice age ended approximately 11,000 years ago, ushering in our modern climate era, the Holocene. Since then, the climate has been mostly stable, although there was a Little Ice Age that took place between 1200 and 1850 CE. 

But there’s more to climate change than the spread of glaciers and many once-mighty civilizations have been devastated by the effects of locally changing climate conditions. 

Gol-e-Zard Cave lies in the shadow of Mount Damavand, which at more than 5,000 metres dominates the landscape of northern Iran. In this cave, stalagmites and stalactites are growing slowly over millennia and preserve in them clues about past climate events. Changes in stalagmite chemistry from this cave have now linked the collapse of the Akkadian Empire to climate changes more than 4,000 years ago.

Akkadia was the world’s first empire. It was established in Mesopotamia around 4,300 years ago after its ruler, Sargon of Akkad, united a series of independent city states. Akkadian influence spanned along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from what is now southern Iraq, through to Syria and Turkey. The north-south extent of the empire meant that it covered regions with different climates, ranging from fertile lands in the north which were highly dependent on rainfall (one of Asia’s “bread baskets”), to the irrigation-fed alluvial plains to the south.

It appears that the empire became increasingly dependent on the productivity of the northern lands and used the grains sourced from this region to feed the army and redistribute the food supplies to key supporters. Then, about a century after its formation, the Akkadian Empire suddenly collapsed, followed by mass migration and conflicts. The anguish of the era is perfectly captured in the ancient Curse of Akkad text, which describes a period of turmoil with water and food shortages: … the large arable tracts yielded no grain, the inundated fields yielded no fish, the irrigated orchards yielded no syrup or wine, the thick clouds did not rain.

Drought and dust

The reason for this collapse is still debated by historians, archaeologists and scientists. One of the most prominent views, championed by Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss (who built on earlier ideas by Ellsworth Huntington), is that it was caused by an abrupt onset of drought conditions which severely affected the productive northern regions of the empire.

Weiss and his colleagues discovered evidence in northern Syria that this once prosperous region was suddenly abandoned around 4,200 years ago, as indicated by a lack of pottery and other archaeological remains. Instead, the rich soils of earlier periods were replaced by large amounts of wind-blown dust and sand, suggesting the onset of drought conditions. Subsequently, marine cores from the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea which linked the input of dust into the sea to distant sources in Mesopotamia provided further evidence of a regional drought at the time.

Many other researchers viewed Weiss’s interpretation with scepticism, however. Some argued, for example, that the archaeological and marine evidence was not accurate enough to demonstrate a robust correlation between drought and societal change in Mesopotamia.

A new detailed climate record

Now, stalagmite data from Iran sheds new light on the controversy. In a study published in the journal PNAS, led by Oxford palaeoclimatologist Stacy Carolin, colleagues and I provide a very well dated and high resolution record of dust activity between 5,200 and 3,700 years ago. And cave dust from Iran can tell us a surprising amount about climate history elsewhere.

Gol-e-Zard Cave might be several hundred miles to the east of the former Akkadian Empire, but it is directly downwind. As a result, around 90% of the region’s dust originates in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

That desert dust has a higher concentration of magnesium than the local limestone which forms most of Gol-e-Zard’s stalagmites (the ones which grow upwards from the cave floor). Therefore, the amount of magnesium in the Gol-e-Zard stalagmites can be used as an indicator of dustiness at the surface, with higher magnesium concentrations indicating dustier periods, and by extension drier conditions.

The stalagmites have the additional advantage that they can be dated very precisely using uranium-thorium chronology. Combining these methods, our new study provides a detailed history of dustiness in the area, and identifies two major drought periods which started 4,510 and 4,260 years ago, and lasted 110 and 290 years respectively. The latter event occurs precisely at the time of the Akkadian Empire’s collapse and provides a strong argument that climate change was at least in part responsible.

The collapse was followed by mass migration from north to south which was met with resistance by the local populations. A 180km wall – the “Repeller of the Amorites” – was even built between the Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to control immigration, not unlike some strategies proposed today. The stories of abrupt climate change in the Middle East therefore echo over millennia to the present day.

The Mayan civilization in Mesoamerica lasted for some 3,000 years. Their empire was spread throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and modern-day Guatemala, Belize, parts of Mexico, and western Honduras and El Salvador. Agriculture was the cornerstone of Mayan civilization, with great cities being built as the population grew. Religion was an important part of Mayan life; sacrifice – including human sacrifice – was a regular ritual, intended to appease and nourish the gods and keep the land fertile.

However, somewhere around 900 CE, things started to go wrong for the Mayans. Overpopulation put too great a strain on resources. Increased competition for resources was bringing the Maya into violent conflict with other nations. An extensive period of drought sounded the death-knell, ruining crops and cutting off drinking water supplies. 

They were not the only ancient people catastrophically caught out by climate change. 

More than 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia – the area currently made up of Iraq, north-east Syria and south-east Turkey – the Akkadian empire ruled supreme. Until a 300-year-long drought quite literally turned all their plans to dust. It was part of a pattern of changing climate conditions in the Middle East around 2,200 BCE that was constantly disrupting life and up-ending emerging empires.

When the effects of drought began to be felt, people would leave the stricken areas and migrate to more abundant ones. These mass migration events, however, increased the pressure on remaining resources, leading to yet more problems.

The iconic Angkor Wat temple is a reminder of the prowess of another of history’s lost civilizations – the Khmer empire of south-east Asia, which flourished between 802 and 1431 CE. It too was brought down by drought, interspersed with violent monsoon rains, against the backdrop of a changing climate.

Even the Viking settlers of Greenland, in the far north Atlantic, are believed to have been affected by climate change. Some 5,000 settlers made the island their home for around 500 years. But they may have had their way of life disrupted by climate change. Temperatures dropped, reducing substantially the productivity of their farms and making it harder to raise livestock. They adapted their eating habits, turning their attention to the sea as a source of food. But life on Greenland became unbearably difficult, leading to the eventual abandonment of the island colony.

The natural cycle of climate change is an ongoing and unavoidable part of life. But history seems to be telling us that when past civilizations have overstretched themselves or pushed their consumption of natural resources to the brink, the effects of climate change soon become amplified. With dire consequences for those caught up in it.

Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, increasing amounts of polluting gases have been pumped into the atmosphere, triggering an unprecedented rate of warming. According to the IPCC, human activity has caused around 1°C of global warming (above pre-industrial levels). The likely range is between 0.8°C and 1.2°C. Between 2030 and 2052, global warming is likely to hit a 1.5°C increase.

That increase of 1.5°C could put between 20% and 30% of animal species on the fast track to extinction. If the planet warms by an average 2°C the damage will be even worse. For the human population, one of the threats climate change poses is rising sea levels and eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are in coastal locations.

Another is the risk of climate-driven drought leading to mass migration events similar to those seen thousands of years ago. The Climate & Migration Coalition has warned that countries caught up in armed conflict or civil war are particularly vulnerable to famine in the event of drought. The Horn of Africa, home to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia is an area that has been hit hard by both man-made conflict and climate change. Around 13 million people there face serious food shortages.

In volatile parts of the world, it is exceptionally difficult to address the challenges of drought and famine; getting aid to people in a conflict zone is fraught with difficulty and danger. This can make the effects more profound and longer-lasting, which will, in turn, increase the likelihood of large numbers of people uprooting themselves in search of somewhere they can live. 

The challenge facing our world due to climate change is something that should not be underestimated. But neither is it cause for despondency. Because unlike the Mayans, the Mesopotamians and other ancient civilizations, here in the 21st century, we are in a position to do something constructive.

A silk road for the heavens

Even as it shuns the BRI, India is recognising that the corridors spreading out from China have connectivity in space and digital domain.

 Delhi, which stayed away from the launch of the Forum in 2017 despite considerable pressure from Beijing, has announced that it will sit out again.

As the second iteration of China’s Belt and Road Forum convenes this week in Beijing, India has a strange karma to cope with. Profound concerns about the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on India’s territorial sovereignty and the geopolitics of its immediate neighbourhood compel India to resist its apparent charms. Delhi, which stayed away from the launch of the Forum in 2017 despite considerable pressure from Beijing, has announced that it will sit out again.

Yet, even as it shuns the BRI, India has no choice but to emulate China on connectivity of all kinds. Although India has adopted the mantra of connectivity more than a decade ago, China’s BRI has pressed Delhi to get its act together on regional connectivity. The scale of the challenge has also encouraged India to shed its traditional “lone-ranger” mentality and consider working with others, especially Japan, Australia and the United States, in promoting regional connectivity in the Indo-Pacific.

Meanwhile, India is coming to terms with the fact that the BRI is more than two-dimensional. Under the BRI, the “belt” was about overland connectivity and the “road” (in a peculiar twist) referred to the maritime corridors spreading out from China’s eastern seaboard. The additional and inter-related dimensions of BRI are about connectivity in outer space and the digital domain.

Unlike the land and sea corridors, for India, it is not just a question of supporting or rejecting the space and digital silk roads. Delhi finds itself already tied into these initiatives, one way or another. India’s deep dependence on Chinese telecom giants is now a reality. So is the growing reliance of India’s neighbours — including Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka — on China’s space services. The challenge for Delhi is to expand shall we say, India’s “strategic autonomy” in a market that Beijing is poised to dominate.

At the heart of China’s space silk road is the BeiDou satellite navigation system. Over the weekend, China launched a satellite for the BeiDou system that is expected to rival the American Global Positioning System (GPS), the Russian GLONASS and the European Galileo. BeiDou will consist of a number of satellites in the geostationary and intermediate earth orbits. The third generation BeiDou system will be operational by next year and is expected to provide better accuracy than the current Western and Russian systems.

Although the first BeiDou system goes back to 2000, it is now being presented as an important component of the Belt and Road Initiative that was launched in 2013. Some analysts have called BeiDou the digital glue that holds the BRI together. By connecting industries and infrastructure projects along the BRI, China’s satellite navigation and communication system hopes to dominate the new digital infrastructure in the BRI space. As new ideas for space-based internet services emerge, China is well ahead of the curve. Google, Amazon and SpaceX are all developing projects to provide broadband services around the world through networks of satellites numbering hundreds.

At the end of 2018, China launched the first of its planned constellation 320 satellites in the low-earth orbit. By the end of this year, a network of nine satellites is expected to demonstrate the possibilities for space based internet services. The entire fleet of 320 satellites under the Hongyan project is expected to be operational by 2025.

According to media reports, China is putting up a facility in Tianjin to assemble 130 Hongyan satellites annually. The Hongyan mega-constellation is designed to facilitate two-way communications at all times across all terrain, providing a wide range of civilian services such as ground data collection and exchange, ship identification and tracking, mobile broadcasting and navigation signal enhancement.

China has also launched a Big Earth Data initiative that will develop the generation of massive remote-sensing data and commercial products based on it for use across the entire spectrum of sustainable development — from agriculture to disaster management. China is not only into providing space-based services, but is also in the business of exporting satellites to a large number of countries, seeding space-related infrastructure and training space personnel. While China presents these dramatic advances as part of its effort to promote space and digital connectivity through international cooperation, there is no mistaking its geopolitical implications — especially in expanding Beijing’s global surveillance and intelligence capabilities, upgrading the PLA’s military effectiveness, and a big say in shaping the digital infrastructure of developing nations.

India’s space programme too has grown by focusing on modernising national telecommunication, application of remote sensing data for national development and more recently on developing assets for national security. India has a satellite navigation system of its own, the GAGAN. India’s remote sensing capability too is impressive. If India has missed a trick it is in the expansive scale that China has brought to its space programme.

While the origin and development of both space programmes was led by state entities, China has more recently opened up room for the participation of non-state entities and encouraged private innovators.

As the commercial and geopolitical stakes in outer space grow rapidly, the next government in Delhi has its task cut out: To reform India’s space sector to allow private corporations to play a larger role, promote space startups, and rejuvenate India’s international space collaboration, both civilian and military — with friends and allies.

Unlike in the traditional Belt and Road projects, India has significant capabilities in the space and digital domains. With policies that will lend them the necessary political support, commercial ambition and organisational scale, Delhi can surely shape the future of space and digital connectivity.

Fight for a Fairer Tech Industry for Women

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2019 reveals that we have closed 68% of the gender gap worldwide. The survey predicts that it will take 108 years to achieve overall gender parity and 202 years to achieve full equality in the workplace. Despite the progress being made, however, we simply cannot accept these results as fact. More needs to be done to address gender inequality. This is especially important at a time when our workplaces are on the cusp of changing dramatically due to technological advancement in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.

It is shortsighted to presume that all technological advancements are automatically helpful. While immensely transformational in many ways, the development of automation and machine learning still poses potential threats and risks to gender equality. Through hidden biases and the growth of a function which today severely lacks female representation, we risk impeding positive progress in gender equality across tech and AI-dependent industries.

There remains a perception among 52% of women that technology is a male industry, while almost a third (32%) believe gender bias is still a major hurdle in the recruitment process. This demonstrates the urgent need to change perceptions around tech, and the need to do more to support and inspire women to enter the tech industry. Without such efforts, we risk closing off a key area of growth from female talent and cementing the gender gap that currently exists.

The rise of AI

AI is currently revolutionising processes and rates of productivity across multiple industries. While this is largely positive development, many of the routine roles on which organisations once depended are becoming obsolete as a result. Recent research by the IMF revealed that women are employed in the majority of AI-threatened roles. Given the current rates of tech evolution, the IMF report estimates that 26 million female jobs across 30 countries (including 28 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) are at risk of disappearing. It also predicts that 180 million women’s jobs globally are at risk of displacement. More worrying still is the fact that there is a deficit in knowledge of essential machine learning skills among women, with men outpacing them by 85%. This demonstrates the urgent need to upskill women in this area and make AI a more welcoming environment for women. Without such efforts, it will be an uphill struggle to reach gender parity in this area.

Biased technology

Issues within the industry have been highlighted by recent studies, which point to the inadvertent replication of gender bias and stereotypes in AI developed by male-dominated teams. The Forum’s gender gap report findings also indicate that women represent just 22% of the AI workforce. Problems have been uncovered in the recruitment of some technology firms, where algorithms used in the HR process exhibit a bias towards selecting the CVs of men – and more specifically for roles in AI development. Eradication of this insidious effect can be achieved by supporting and encouraging more women into team and leadership roles across the industry.

It is important we grow the number of women in AI, because striking gender balance in areas such as this brings with it greater collaboration, innovation and creativity. Tech companies like mine, whose cultures are underpinned by proactive measures to drive gender parity and equal opportunity, are benefiting from the talent and creativity that women bring. Striving for equality internally is not a PR exercise, but comes from the need to harness innovation in all its forms to safeguard growth. Today, technology impacts everyone; therefore, support for equality must begin within the tech industry itself by eradicating historical gender imbalances through proactive policies. Moreover, closing the gender gap in the industry will have positive longer-term implications for the achievement of gender parity across society through the technology we develop and the example we set.

Leading by example

There is a need for more technology companies to internally address how their culture might be adversely affecting female employees. Women often find themselves stunted by male bias at many levels, and their contributions and ideas have little wider impact on the technology produced. The gender gap impacting the development of AI must be addressed in recruitment processes and policies to give women the clear message that they are valued for roles at all levels.

There is an essential need for female leadership to help achieve a truly balanced workforce across the technology industry. As we know, more female leaders and women on boards helps lead to greater creativity and less groupthink and provides a broader view when making key decisions. But most importantly, more female leaders mean more role models for young women and girls, which is simply critical if we want to achieve parity.

The visibility of female role models across a business is important, and this belief is reflected in my own company’s internal programmes, and wider initiatives that focus on female mentorship and celebrating women who are disrupting the world of tech. I encourage all companies to make similar efforts to help create these role models and show that there is a place for women in tech and AI.

A collaborative future

The most recent research indicates that women globally are inspired by the technology industry and see it as an innovative and creative force – therefore we need to ensure these women feel confident to enter the industry and make an impact. This is a responsibility for both industry and governments.

It is also crucial that the tech industry has the support of government and policy-makers at a national and global level, and that efforts are made to collaborate in supporting and encouraging more women into tech and AI roles and careers. From encouraging girls to study STEM subjects, to creating a more open and welcoming environment for women entering the tech workplace, we can all contribute to closing the gender gap in this space.

Climate Induced Migration

Human mobility associated with climate change is a growing global reality. There are regular warnings about climate change impacts creating significant numbers of displaced people, and presenting an international security risk.

We hear significantly less often from those whose lives and homes are in danger. It is even rarer that their wealth of knowledge – based on lived experience in fragile or hazardous places – is included in policy and planning. And community-based, participatory research and planning is hardly ever conducted with a focus on the intertwined challenges of mobility, climate change, and human security.

This must change. The Global Compact for Migration urges us to “strengthen joint analysis and sharing of information to better map, understand, predict and address migration movements, such as those that may result from sudden-onset and slow onset natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, environmental degradation, as well as other precarious situations, while ensuring the effective respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants”.

This, arguably, should start with the genuine inclusion of communities facing serious climate change impacts in the production of knowledge, in policy and in planning. Advancing the security of all nation states in a changing climate starts with advancing the human security of future migrants themselves.

A fresh approach to “climate change migration” is needed that takes human security as its starting point, captured here in seven steps:

1) Decarbonize the global economy

Reducing global temperature increases will reduce the risk of population displacements.

2) Do not make assumptions

It should never be assumed that people on the move are problems to be solved, nor do they necessarily want to permanently move to the industrialised world.

3) Adopt a mobilities perspective

The world is a complex system already in flux. A mobilities perspective can direct fruitful attention to the agency and wellbeing of mobile people because it focuses less on the artificial question of what causes people to move, and more on facilitating safe mobility. Mobility-related risks must be recognized and addressed. But equally, new thinking is needed about mobile forms of livelihood diversification, contributing to adaptation to climate change across multiple sites.

4) Direct more resources to disaster prevention and in situ adaptation to slow-onset climate change impacts

Deterioration into untenable living conditions is less likely when donors, governments and civil society seek to work with communities to build climate resilience, particularly through long-term structural changes such as access to education. This can achieve results at a fraction of the cost of post-disaster relief or defence operations.

5) Start from the community scale and build upwards

Since international and national policy frameworks are often thwarted in climate change mobility planning by highly emotive politics, planning could be fruitfully focussed on the community level and be scaled upwards. Communities are neither apolitical nor homogenous; but the scale of communities may be more appropriate to debate and plan for the opportunities and effects of the displacement of individuals, households and communities, particularly within national borders.

6) Create real opportunities for people living in highly vulnerable places to be active agents in shaping their future

Those experiencing stress and fear about losing their homes from slow-onset climate change impacts may benefit from participating in policy and planning processes that are both sensitive to their beliefs and needs, and empower them to make difficult choices. To date, policy and planning for climate change migration has typically been top-down, involving little collaboration with at-risk communities. Capacity-building for community scale mobility planning is needed globally.

7) Stop sensationalising climate change and displacement

Sensationalism is no substitute for science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly states “there are no robust global estimates of future displacement, but there is significant evidence that planning and increased mobility can reduce the human security costs of displacement from extreme weather events”.

The identification of international security risks associated with climate change often draw on extremely large “predictions” without indication of peer-review or methodology. These large numbers circulate as a self-referencing, self-evident claim largely divorced from science, something that should never be tolerated in evidence-based policy. The climate migration risk to international security should derive its legitimacy from science not sensationalism.

Clash of Civilizations: Real or Racist?

When you saw flames roaring from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, did you think, I wonder if this is an Islamist terrorist attack? I did. The Islamic State has pledged to attack Christian targets, churches in France are under attack, and terrorists have been caught trying to attack Notre Dame. Until it was announced that the fire was started by accident, I thought it was a reasonable question.

According to the Washington Post, you are racist if you thought that. This is a narrative coming increasingly into the open: Anyone who believes there may be a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West is evidently racist.

Sadly, just a few days later, those of us who believed some Muslims might attack churches were proved right. Over 300 people died on April 21 when Islamists attacked people attending Easter church services in Sri Lanka.

But once again, the media’s bias was on full display. I wrote an article on the Easter Sunday attack shortly after it happened. When you see headlines about a massive attack, with hundreds dead, you have one burning question: Who did this? Basic journalistic standards dictate that this crucial fact will be one of the first things you tell your readers.

Yet in article after article, the who was conspicuously missing. It wasn’t because we didn’t know yet. Associated Press quickly published strong circumstantial evidence that the Islamist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath was behind the attack. On Twitter, terrorism experts were already beginning to connect the dots with the Islamic State. But all this was either buried at the bottom of the articles or missing altogether.

I’m sure you’ve noticed this already. If someone commits a murderous atrocity at a hotel tomorrow, it will be portrayed one of two ways. If the perpetrator is a neo-Nazi, the headline will be “White Supremacist Murders Dozens.” But if the perpetrator is a Muslim, the headline will be more like “Hotel Explosion Kills Fifty”—as if the dead are victims of some form of spontaneous combustion.

But it is getting worse. Canadian columnist Mark Steyn wrote, “One senses that a line was crossed in yesterday’s [Sunday’s] coverage.” There’s a deliberate agenda behind this. And it’s concealing one of the most important news events in modern times.

Talia Lavin’s piece last week in the Washington Post exposed the thinking of many in the media. She condemned “far-right pundit Ben Shapiro” for calling Notre Dame a “monument to Western civilization” and “Judeo-Christian heritage.” The “far-right” label is very questionable, but Lavin is a former fact-checker, who was fired for making stuff up.

“Given the already-raging rumors about potential Muslim involvement, these tweets evoked the specter of a war between Islam and the West that is already part of numerous far-right narratives,” she wrote.

Nothing that Shapiro said is untrue. But because it evokes some “specter,” he is far right. “It is past time that those who stoke inflammatory rhetoric, knowing its potential to catalyze racist violence, were made to stop playing with fire,” Lavin concluded (emphasis added throughout). So if you think civilizations are clashing, not only are you wrong, and not only are you racist, but you must be “made” to shut up.

In the wake of the Sri Lanka attacks, the Washington Post is at it again. Yesterday it published its view of the attack with an article titled “Christianity Under Attack? Sri Lanka Church Bombings Stoke Far-right Anger in the West.” So after churches are attacked, there’s still a question mark on the first part—but the second part is sure.

The article stated that “after Sri Lankan officials blamed a local Muslim militant group, National Thowheed Jama’ath, for the attack on Monday, European far-right groups and activists began to describe the attacks in specifically religious terms.” A radical religious group attacks religious buildings on a religious holiday. But if you describe it in “religious terms” then you are far right. The article continued in this vein, insinuating that anyone who sees this as part of a clash between Christian-based civilization and Muslim-based civilization is, you guessed it, racist.

So the media downplay attacks committed by Muslims. At the same time there is a huge level of persecution on Christians that is also underreported. The Catholic Herald noted earlier this month: [I]n Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, Christians (along with Jews) are the victims of a rising tide of Islamist and jihadist fervor. This is a political perversion of Islam and believed by a minority among Muslims, but it is a large social phenomenon that influences and overwhelms governments. Thus, sometimes governments persecute Christians directly as in Sudan; sometimes they try to restrain and punish mob attacks on Christians, as recently in Pakistan; sometimes they turn a blind eye to such crimes as religious murder and the burnings of churches (in which, indeed, police and soldiers take part) as in Egypt; and often they veer back and forth between these different responses depending on pressures from foreign governments and ngos. The end result is that some of the oldest Christian communities in the world are being driven from Iraq and Syria, and that the Copts in Egypt—5 percent of the population—live a half-life in the shadows between official protection, Islamist violence and emigration.

In Europe, two churches are attacked every day. It’s hard to get any information about who is behind these attacks, largely because the journalists in the mainstream news organizations with the resources to find out are declining to pursue the matter. It’s clear that some attacks are from Muslims, and some are from radical secularists. But statistics are hard to come by. Still, we have enough to see the problem is real. For example, last year, in France alone, 800 churches were attacked.

Yet many avoid mentioning the problem. It was this instinct that led former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama to tweet about attacks on “Easter worshipers” rather than use the “C” word. Anything that gives any indication that there is a “clash of civilizations” must be avoided.

The term “clash of civilizations” comes from political scientist Samuel Huntington. After the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended, many, especially on the left, saw the world slowly developing toward a single civilization. Values like democracy, free speech and the rule of law would ultimately spread through the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Writing in 1996, Huntington put forward a very different view. In his original essay on the subject, he wrote, “[T]he fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.” He forecast that “the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.”

Man’s love for, and a sense of loyalty toward his group, whether small or large, means automatically a hostile attitude toward whatever or whoever is opposed. So human nature automatically expresses resentment, jealousy, malice, spite, hatred, toward opposing parties, whether within or without his world.

Much as we may hate to face it, hating and opposing others are key parts of human nature. This is where Huntington begins. “There can be no true friends without true enemies. Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are,” so says a character in Michael Dibdin’s novel Dead Lagoon—a quote Huntington uses to start his book.

“For people seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential, and the potentially most dangerous enmities occur across the fault lines between the world’s major civilizations,” writes Huntington. “We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.”

This aspect of human nature ascribes significant meaning to everything that sets apart one civilization or culture from another. “In the post-Cold War world, flags count and so do other symbols of cultural identity, including crosses, crescents and even head coverings, because culture counts, and culture identity is what is most meaningful to most people,” he writes.

The most powerful of these is religion, because it is the most individual and important. “Millennia of human history have shown that religion is not a ‘small difference’ but possibly the most profound difference that can exist between people,” Huntington writes. He chronicles the meteoric rise of religion since the end of the Cold War.

In 1989, Central Asia had only 160 active mosques. Four years later, there were 10,000. Moscow had 50 churches in 1988. Four years later, it had 250. Around the same time, nearly a third of Russians under age 25 said they had switched from being atheist to believing in God.

In the still officially atheist state of China, the World Religion Database shows the total number of followers of all religions jumping from around 300 million in 1970 to around 700 million today. Despite government attempts to stop it, religion has spread much faster than Chinese population growth.

In South Korea in 1962, 2.6 percent of the population were Buddhist and 5 percent were Christian. Now 23 percent are Buddhist and more than 29 percent are Christian.

“In the modern world, religion is a central, perhaps the central, force that motivates and mobilizes people,” Huntington writes. “It is sheer hubris to think that because Soviet communism has collapsed, the West has won the world for all time and that Muslims, Chinese, Indians and others are going to rush to embrace Western liberalism as the only alternative.”

Time has proved Huntington dramatically correct. He wrote his book before 9/11, when radical Islam made itself a major concern to everyone in the world. He wrote it before head coverings became one of the major political issues in Europe, the bastion of liberal multiculturalism. He wrote it long before the migrant crisis led to a new crop of parties in Europe that emphasized Europe’s separate religious and cultural identity. He wrote it before it became obvious the China was not walking down the path to liberal democracy.

Yet Huntington also faced repeated accusations of being racist. Liberal professor Edward Said called Huntington’s ideas “the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims.”

Evidence doesn’t matter. Perhaps it is because Huntington’s book is so well argued that critics have to hurl the “r” word at him.

But there’s a more important reason to watch for a clash of civilizations—and why the evidence is being covered up. Islam is the most powerful force that can reach beyond national borders and unite such a coalition. Although Ethiopia is a majority-Christian country, it has a strong Muslim minority and many Muslims in its neighboring countries.

This passage also tells us that this conflict revolves around Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The victorious king of the north “shall enter also into the glorious land” (verse 41). “[H]e shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain …” (verse 45). This power sets up a religious headquarters in Jerusalem.

Radical Islam, led by Iran, will “push” at Europe. It will attack Europe’s religion, Catholicism, just like we saw in Sri Lanka. And this European power will respond powerfully with a new crusade.

This coming clash of civilizations is real. Yet the media, the supposed watchdogs of society, don’t want to report on it. So they underreport and underemphasize attacks on churches in Europe—and even Islamic suicide bombers mass-murdering 290 Christians on Easter Sunday. They make it sound preposterous to believe that radical Muslims might be behind the attacks.

The media hides this clash of civilizations. But they won’t be able to hide it much longer. Already their attempts to distort reality are becoming absurd. As this clash builds, it will be impossible to hide.

The Unheard Woman Who Changed the World of Work

When you think of the big names in tech who have revolutionized the way we work, Evelyn Berezin probably doesn’t come to mind.

Yet she developed the first computerized word processor, which helped lay the foundations of the digital age that gave rise to the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs and web inventor Tim Berners-Lee.

Berezin, who died recently aged 93, was a computer visionary whose invention, the Data Secretary, marked the beginning of the end for the typing pool. The machine allowed secretaries to edit, cut, paste and delete text without having to retype whole pages marred by errors or duplicate them for wider distribution.

She is also credited with building one of the first computerized airline reservation systems.

Inventor, engineer and entrepreneur

In 1969, Berezin started a company called Redactron to manufacture and sell the Data Secretary. In her role as founder and president, she cultivated law firms and corporate clients who soon realized the machine’s potential to reduce labour costs.

While Redactron’s competitors in the word processing business relied on electronic relays and tapes, the Data Secretary’s advanced design incorporated early semiconductor chips and programmable logic to record and retrieve keystrokes for editing.

Berezin even designed some of the semiconductors herself. In an industry dominated by men, she was unique – a female inventor and engineer and founder of one of the first tech startups.

Customers purchasing the Data Secretary received a unit the size of a small fridge, which had no screen and relied on an IBM Selectric typewriter for its keyboard and printer. It was slow, clunky and noisy but also technically sophisticated and, for a time, business boomed.

Later versions had screens, scaled-down consoles, separate printers, and came with enhanced processing speeds and greater performance. Manufacturers like IBM soon incorporated computer chips into competing designs and a wave of word processors arrived on the market.

Before long, some of the secretarial tasks that Berezin had been trying to speed up became obsolete. The word processor revolution had enhanced efficiency so much that many typing jobs disappeared. But as well as eliminating jobs, the computer age that followed also created countless new ones.

Today, Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are ushering in an era of rapid change and innovation, which will transform global labour markets in the coming years. By 2022 a 10% decline in existing jobs will be counterbalanced by an 11% increase in the emergence of new roles, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018.

Like secretaries in the years following the advent of the labour-saving word processor, those at higher risk of redundancy are likely to be in routine-based, white-collar roles which can be easily automated.

The Data Secretary fulfilled its designer’s intention of making life easier for secretaries. However, Berezin told the New York Times in 2017 it hadn’t occurred to her when she developed it that it might jeopardize women’s jobs

The Imminent Collapse of the Mighty Dollar

Dark clouds loom for the world’s dominant currency. Despite some positive financial news in the United States, nations are reducing their reliance on the U.S. dollar. In its stead, they are filling their vaults with gold, euros, yuan and other currencies.

The Central Bank of Russia accelerated its de-dollarization efforts last year and dumped 98 percent of its dollar reserves. It then moved $44 billion into euros, $44 billion into yuan, and almost $13 billion into 274 tons of gold bullion.

And Russia is far from the only nation turning away from the greenback. Kazakhstan and Turkey cut their dollar reserves in half last year and loaded up on 51 tons of gold bullion apiece. China sold 5 percent of its dollar reserves, and bought 10 tons of gold. Ireland dumped 14 percent of its dollar reserves, Switzerland dumped 6 percent of its dollar reserves, and Japan dumped 2 percent of its dollar reserves. Altogether, around 60 nations reduced their central bank’s dollar holdings last year, while over two dozen nations boosted their gold reserves.

Demand for gold has soared to its highest level since U.S. President Richard Nixon killed what was left of the gold standard in 1971. This is a sign that nations are losing faith in the American currency.

The world economy is propped up by the U.S. economy, but the U.S. economy is a house built on a bad foundation. The U.S. government collected $3.3 trillion in taxes last year, but spent $4.1 trillion. It had to borrow $779 billion just to meet expenses. The national debt rose more than $1.2 trillion to an unbelievable $21.5 trillion. And net interest on this debt rose to $371 billion. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that America will be spending more on interest than national defense within a decade.

These statistics are hard to fathom. For perspective, compare the government to a household. Slash seven zeros from the official figures, and it is like a well-to-do family that earns $330,000 a year—yet spends $410,000 a year. This family put a staggering $78,000 on its credit card last year, even though it already had $2,150,000 in credit card debt. It pays $37,000 a year in interest, and it no longer pretends to have a plan to pay off its debts. No well-managed bank would lend this family more money.

The world economy is propped up by the U.S. economy, but the U.S. economy is a house built on a bad foundation. The U.S. government has spent like this for decades, and nations keep lending it all the money it wants at historically low interest rates. Why?

Banks keep lending America money because the dollar is the world’s dominant reserve currency. Nearly 45 percent of the world’s debt is denominated in dollars, and about 52 percent of international trade is conducted in dollars. Since banks around the world need a lot of dollars to conduct business, almost 62 percent of foreign exchange reserves are held in dollars.

The high demand for dollars keeps the interest rate on America’s debt low. Because many people want to own dollars, they want to buy dollars. Purchasing U.S. debt in the form of U.S. Treasury bonds is an easy way to do that. And since so many people want to buy these bonds, America’s government can sell them at incredibly low interest rates.

But as nations lose faith in the U.S. financial system and sell off their dollar reserves, the situation is changing. The dollar is losing its reserve currency status. Its value is decreasing, and the interest rate that banks charge America for loans is rising. The only reason the dollar has not collapsed is that the world’s other major currencies are in even worse shape than the dollar. Since there is currently no viable alternative reserve currency, banks grudgingly continue to use the dollar—despite its flaws.

This will change—and soon!

Millennia ago, the Bible foretold that the U.S. would be plagued by debt in the end time, and it strongly indicates that the dollar will lose its reserve currency status to a European superpower.

Almighty Dollar

The U.S. dollar was not always a reserve currency. Before World War i, the British pound sterling was the dominant currency, and the dollar was barely used outside the borders of America. But the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 centralized the U.S. banking system as nations around the world began abandoning the gold standard so they could pay for their military expenses with borrowed paper currency. America then became a lender of choice as nations bought U.S. bonds denominated in Federal Reserve Notes.

When Britain finally abandoned the gold standard in 1919, banks started reducing their dependency on the British pound and turned to the U.S. dollar.

The dollar’s position as the world’s dominant reserve currency grew stronger during World War ii. America sold weapons, supplies and other goods to the Allied powers in return for gold. By the war’s end, the U.S. owned the majority of the world’s gold reserves. Since no other nation could establish a gold-backed currency, the world’s biggest economies fixed the exchange rate of their currencies to the dollar. In 1944, at a conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, America promised that any dollar could be redeemed for its value in gold. So the dollar became the new gold standard.

During the 1950s, over 90 percent of the world’s debt was denominated in dollars. An economic downturn in the early 1970s, however, caused nations to lose faith in the dollar’s stability. So they started demanding gold for the dollars they held in reserve. Rather than watch American gold reserves deplete, President Richard Nixon abandoned what was left of the gold standard. To ensure that the dollar remained the world’s dominant reserve currency, he negotiated a deal with the Saudis. He promised to arm and protect Saudi Arabia if the Saudi royals would denominate all future oil sales in dollars. The Saudis agreed, and the dollar became an oil-backed currency.

The fact that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries uses dollars in all its oil transactions creates a massive demand for U.S. currency. It is partially due to this demand that the average interest rate on a 10-year loan to the U.S. government fell from 7.56 percent in 1974 to 2.69 percent today.

Since nations need dollars to buy oil and other goods, they buy dollars in the form of U.S. Treasury Bonds (which are like an iou from the U.S. government). Since demand for Treasury Bonds is high, interest rates are low. This means the U.S. can continue racking up debt by selling ious around the world without having to worry too much about the costs of servicing its expanding debt.

Former French Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing called America’s ability to borrow at low interest because of the dollar’s reserve currency status an “exorbitant privilege.” This privilege is based on a high demand for U.S. Treasury Bonds. When the dollar is no longer in international demand, the U.S. will lose its ability to borrow cheap money, and interest payments on the national debt will consume a burgeoning portion of America’s gross domestic product.

New System

No currency reigns forever. The same pressures that unseated the French franc in the 19th century and the British pound in the 20th century will unseat the dollar in the 21st century.

What caused national banks to stop using the British pound for their transactions in 1919? It was primarily Britain’s debt. Governments looked at how much Britain owed, its economic output and the fact that its currency was backed not by gold but by the belief that it was valuable—and they stopped believing.

Today, America has a far worse debt, and it continues to borrow. Nations are losing faith in the dollar’s stability; they just have no other option—yet.

Many European leaders want the euro to replace the dollar as the world’s dominant reserve currency, but worries that the EU may fall apart have prevented central banks from wholeheartedly embracing the euro. Likewise, many Chinese government officials want the yuan to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, but China’s lack of currency transparency has been a stumbling block.

“There is no alternative to the dollar,” British political economist Mark Blyth told the New York Times. “We’re stuck with the dollar, which gives the United States astonishing structural power” (February 22).

Until a good alternative emerges, nations worried about America’s debt must move slowly: They can only gradually decrease their dollar holdings as they reluctantly buy euros and yuan.

But the status quo is ripe for change if the eurozone truly unites into a German-run superstate, or if China relaxes the yuan’s peg to the dollar. Many nations and individuals desperately want these changes. But if history is any guide, it will take a shock to overturn the world’s financial system.

The shock that catapulted the dollar to dominant reserve currency status between 1913 and 1919 was a banking crisis in Europe that prompted central banks to load up on American currency. Ironically, it may be a banking crisis in America that prompts central banks to load up on European currency.

In other words, a banking crisis could scare European nations into surrendering control to a central authority. Once the euro is supported by a central government strong enough to regulate its member states’ tax and spending policies, the dollar’s day as the dominant reserve currency will be over. The greenback will be a co-regent with the euro at best, an isolated North American currency at worst.

Sri Lanka Witnesses A Wrong Kind of Resurrection

The ghastly serial bomb blasts on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday that killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more in Sri Lanka have revived the ghosts of ethnic hatred, which tore the island country apart in earlier decades.

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, expectations of normalcy through peace and reconciliation have faltered amid a resurgence of social polarisation and manipulation of cultural identities.

The latest attacks form a bloody milestone in a post-war trajectory that went horribly wrong. Terrorism festers in divided societies by exploiting grievances and anxieties of groups that feel they are being victimised. Yesterday’s eight separate bomb blasts were carried out in a social landscape that certainly fits that bill.

After vanquishing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhist Sinhalese elite did not opt to reach out and heal the wounds, and regain the trust of minority Tamils and Muslims, who comprise 13% and 10%, respectively of the total population.

Justice for wartime atrocities remained a bitter unfulfilled aspiration. Rabble-rousing Sinhalese politicians and hardline Buddhist clerics whipped up a frenzy about Muslims and Christians posing an existential threat to the country’s demographic make-up and majoritarian value system.

The ruling establishment always sought an enemy in the form of a dehumanised ‘Other’ to win elections and maintain economic privileges.

Once, the Tamils – the majority of whom are Hindus – had been ‘pacified’ by pulverising the LTTE, Sinhalese ethnic entrepreneurs turned their attention to Muslims and Christians.

Repeated mob attacks and riots against Muslims and Christians, spurred by Buddhist chauvinistic organisations like the Bodu Bala Sena, became ‘normalised’, as if they were the natural outcome and right of the ‘winners’ of the civil war.

It is in this context that radicalisation of Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who reside in the capital Colombo and in the eastern and western coastal districts, increased. In 2016, the Sri Lankan government revealed that 32 Sri Lankan Muslims “from the families which are considered as well-educated and elite” had joined the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

A hitherto unknown outfit called National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) came to notice amid talk of revenge for hate crimes suffered by Sri Lankan Muslims at the hands of Buddhist mobs.

Examples of similar atrocities occurring in Buddhist-majority Myanmar also fired up these elements. They even got tacit backing of some mainstream Sri Lankan Muslim politicians eager to carve out their own minority turfs.

The scale of the Easter Sunday attacks was such that only an organised and equipped terrorist group with foreign links could have plotted them – and achieved so much carnage.

Sri Lanka’s law enforcement and counter-terrorism units, which had grown complacent after the civil war concluded, have obviously failed, and will need to get their acts together to avert future disasters like this.

But the broader political flaws of the post-war settlement, which form the backdrop to the terrorist problem, are the hardest to fix.

Tamils – Christians among them lost their lives in yesterday’s attacks in Sri Lanka’s eastern region – remain disillusioned by the ‘peace of the graveyard’ and the ‘victor’s justice’ meted out to them after LTTE’s defeat. Muslims, who had once upon a time been brutalised and ethnically cleansed by the LTTE during the civil war, could face further targeted violence instigated by Sinhalese extremists as payback for the Easter Sunday attacks.

The busting of a jihadi training camp – with the discovery of some 100kg of explosive and 100 detonators – in January this year by Sri Lankan authorities in the western Puttalam district does not bode well for the country’s inter-religious coexistence.

Obviously, not all of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority are bigoted. But the historical pattern of politicians and monks rallying them by demonising minorities has not gone away.

The recent parliamentary upheaval and the upcoming presidential election offer fertile grounds for divide-and-rule practices to intensify. Sri Lanka needs a new beginning where the three mutually estranged communities – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims – forge deeper intercultural bonds and foster economic interdependence in a multi-ethnic mosaic.

The nation-building project, which never took off since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, has to be painstakingly started from the bottom-up at least now, before more young Sri Lankans are lured by transnational terrorist remedies. Otherwise, a long-term cycle of war, followed by iniquitous peace, and then a return to full-scale war is the sad future that awaits.

Notre Dame’s ‘frozen music’ offers a lesson in harmony

German writer Goethe described architecture as “frozen music” — an elegant description of what appeals to our senses. The 12th-century Parisian cathedral of Notre Dame (Our Lady) which was damaged in a fire a few days ago is frozen music in another, deeper way.

It is the most famous example of Gothic architecture, which uses rib vaults inside and flying buttresses externally to bear load. This makes it possible to have thin-walled structures with large windows, fewer columns inside, and high roofs. Before Notre Dame, large cathedrals were inevitably thick-walled, dulling sounds produced inside.

Notre Dame’s acoustics bounce echoes pleasantly and sustain sound longer. This made possible the music style called polyphonic (many-voiced) harmony. Think of it as two or more individuals singing different and independent melodies or tunes but in a complementary manner, so hearing them all sung together is pleasant and pleasurable.

When the Bishop of Chartres first heard this music, he marvelled: “When you hear the soft harmonies of the various singers, some taking high and others low parts, some singing in advance, some following in the rear, others with pauses and interludes, you would think yourself listening to a concert of sirens rather than men, and wonder at the powers of voices… whatever is most tuneful among birds, could not equal. Such is the facility of running up and down the scale; so wonderful the shortening or multiplying of notes, the repetition of the phrases, or their emphatic utterance: the treble and shrill notes are so mingled with tenor and bass, that the ears lost their power of judging. When this goes to excess it is more fitted to excite lust than devotion; but if it is kept in the limits of moderation, it drives away care from the soul and the solicitudes of life, confers joy and peace and exultation in God, and transports the soul to the society of angels.”

If you are struggling with the concept, it is because our music does not have polyphonic harmony. It is present in small fragments, mostly modern (think of ‘O saathi chal’ from Seeta aur Geeta). If you want a really good experience of it, look no further than the first example, sung on Christmas Day 1198 in Notre Dame, a song called ‘Viderunt Omnes’, available on YouTube.

It is, of course, glorious to listen to but it is not by accident that Notre Dame’s architecture produced it. Polyphonic harmony was a desired effect, celebrating an activity only humans are capable of doing and enjoying: harmonious group activity. It is why Europeans named their classical music the philharmonic (love of harmony) orchestra.

In Athens 2500 years ago, Plato stressed on a musical education in his book, The Republic, because “more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way into the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it.”

Western music owes much to Pythagoras for his theory on intervals. Interestingly, the Greeks credit Pythagoras’s visit to India for his interest in vegetarianism, in the transmigration of souls and in music. And so it isn’t as if this idea is necessarily foreign to us.
However I confess I do not see any aspect of Indian culture that promotes, reinforces and celebrates harmony. Indeed the answers to why we Indians struggle with group activity — traffic, football, parliamentary debate, war and conquest — things requiring interaction in concert with other humans, requiring harmony, may be found right here.

It will interest readers to know that the great warrior clans of 18th century India — Rathor, Sisodia, Kachwaha, Dogra, Mughal, Maratha, Sikh, Jat — fell not to European technology or machinery. Everyone used the same types of device, whether cannon or muzzle-loading musket.

It was through the drilling of men into formations showing choreographed, disciplined movement — harmony — that a handful of foreigners repeatedly and easily overwhelmed this land. Not just Europeans: Nadir Shah set great store by the drill according to his biographer Axworthy, and rolled over the much larger Mughal force at Karnal in 1739.

It isn’t as if the people who built Notre Dame had no religious differences or violence. French Catholics slaughtered French Protestants by the thousand, most notably in 1572 (the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre). However, they have forgotten those hatreds and have become drawn to a higher message.

Such are the lessons of Notre Dame. If readers were struck by how fiercely the French and the whole of Europe rallied to the aid of the old cathedral after the fire, they must know that in that frozen music lie the true seeds of their civilisation.

Do you think this story would interest our fine leaders? Surely not. They have no interest in music and derive joy in tearing down medieval structures, not preserving and celebrating them.

Saving World’s Heritage

The massive damage to France’s iconic Notre-Dame cathedral due to what appears to be an accidental fire has shocked the world. Images of the fire have been circulated widely on the web and donations are pouring in from across the world to help restore the monument. From French billionaires to Apple’s Tim Cook and even the Japanese government; all want to pitch in to resurrect this symbol of France. In fact, France 2 television has said that it is planning to broadcast a fundraising concert for the restoration effort.

All of this is truly heartening. It is great to see people from across the world coming together for the sake of a piece of French history. Such empathy is truly reassuring in these trying times. That said, it would have been great if such empathy was consistent and applied to other monuments of historical importance that have been destroyed in the recent past. I am specifically referring to the historical monuments, artefacts and sites in Iraq and Syria that were ravaged by the Islamic State (IS) terror group when it was controlling large swathes of those countries between 2014 and 2017.

Recall how the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra – a Unesco World Heritage site – was brutalised by the extremists during their occupation there. The militants destroyed the Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baalshamin, the Arch of Triumph and parts of a second century Roman theatre. Statues in Palmyra’s museum were toppled while Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-year-old head of antiquities in Palmyra, was executed. True, there was worldwide media coverage of the atrocities back then, but where was the outpouring of help to save these millennia-old monuments?

I am not saying that nothing has been done to try and restore ancient Syrian heritage. Unesco has been involved and the Russians have done the most. In fact, last month Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoigu announced that his country would be handing over files related to the restoration of Palmyra to Unesco. Russia has also made 3D models of Palmyra’s ancient temple complexes to aid in the restoration work. But where are the billionaires with their cheque-books? As Syria looks to regain normalcy after years of fighting, the international community should be lining up to help restore Syria’s ancient cultural heritage. This is a non-political issue as these monuments belong not just to Syria but to the entire world.

Similarly, Iraq too suffered a lot of damage under IS. The latter destroyed the 13th-century Assyrian city of Nimrud, the ruins at Hatra and Khorsabad and other ancient sites in northern Iraq. Restoring all of these will require huge efforts, massive technical expertise and plenty of funds. And yet there is no guarantee that everything will be back to the way they were – a lot of artefacts have been lost forever.

Thus, by all means restore the Notre-Dame cathedral. But let us not forget Syrian and Iraqi heritage sites that were destroyed due to war and the despicable actions of an extremist group. And no stone should be left unturned to bring to book those who deliberately destroy world heritage sites. They should be treated as war criminals. The International Criminal Court must look into these cases expeditiously.

Solution for Canada’s Emerging Water Crisis

Canadians can no longer be assured that our waters are abundant, safe and secure. As global temperatures continue to increase, our glaciers melt, permafrost thaws, the river flows become unpredictable and lakes warm and fill with toxic algae. 

The science is telling us that water is moving through the water cycle at an accelerating pace, fundamentally changing weather and precipitation patterns. 

Evidence of such change in Canada is mounting, with more frequent and extreme damage from floods, droughts and wildfires. A changing climate and a disrupted hydrological cycle also amplify the negative effects of development and pollution on river basins and are damaging aquatic life in our waterways from coast to coast to coast.

Skyrocketing costs

The impacts of these rapid changes on water availability and quality are costly. They undermine ecosystem health and the function of world-class parks and protected areas, traditional and subsistence ways of life, built infrastructure and food and energy production. 

The quality of drinking water supplies in rural and Indigenous communities has become massively degraded in recent decades leading to more than 100 drinking water advisories for reserves in Canada as of 2015, forcing some First Nations reserves to boil water, pay for water delivery or haul it from a water filling station. 

Concern and conflicts over water are central to the public’s resistance and lack of trust around resource developments with significant economic and social consequences such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. 

Meanwhile, the cost of floods and droughts for families, towns and cities, the insurance sector, businesses and ultimately the federal government are skyrocketing and unsustainable.

The federal budget

The federal government has raised the issue of water in its recent budget with interest in two primary areas: drinking water in Indigenous communities and the impacts of climate change on Prairie water resources. 

The federal government earmarked an additional $739 million in the budget to eliminate drinking-water advisories on reserves. Since 2015, the federal government has spent $2 billion to improve access to safe, clean drinking water in First Nations communities. As of March 2019, it has lifted 81 long-term drinking water advisories, leaving 59 advisories in place. It plans to have all long-term drinking water advisories removed by 2021. 

This laudable goal is addressing the symptoms, but not the core water problems for Indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples’ inherent water rights, laws and jurisdictions, in addition to their negotiated treaties, land claims and governance agreements, indicate their role as full partners in water and land use decision-making. 

But this has yet to be realized. Tangible action requires co-design of consistent, comprehensive plans and protections for waters that flow through their communities and traditional territories.

The federal budget also committed $1 million to develop a strategy to address the pressures on Prairie water resources which threaten farmers and ranchers. The Prairies have suffered from debilitating drought, flood and water quality degradation. How this strategy will incorporate the concerns, interests and rights of First Nations in the region remains to be fully addressed.

These investments in water would be more effective if they were integrated into a federal freshwater agenda that co-ordinated its design and delivery with the provinces, territories and Indigenous peoples. 

It could draw on the culture of private and public sector innovation and the existing base of western and Indigenous knowledge to develop robust solutions that position Canada as a leader for water solutions on the global stage. 

The path to solutions

Most water management decisions are made locally through provincial and Indigenous jurisdictions. Yet the majority of our major river and lake basins straddle boundaries and cut across jurisdictional boundaries, rights and responsibilities, requiring the involvement of multiple provinces and Indigenous communities — and sometimes the United States. 

The federal government can play an important role in four key areas:

1. Create a Canada Water Security Centre that measures, researches, predicts, stores and disseminates comprehensive information about surface water, groundwater, snow and glacier flows, storage and quality, and helps communities, industry and governments anticipate and respond to water problems, including flood, drought and water pollution forecasting and prediction. 

2. Create a National Water Commission that strengthens transboundary water management, prioritizes the protection of healthy, intact river basins and lakes, and guides water management and water-related climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

3. Strengthen reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by ensuring the Canada Water Act is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and adopting a consent-based, co-drafting approach to renewing the act in partnership with Indigenous governments. 

4. Improve collaborative river basin planning by building durable partnerships for water management and decision-making with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments, with a clear outcome of building resilience to extreme events, identifying priority areas for river basin restoration and ensuring ecosystem needs are addressed across levels of jurisdiction and authority.

Enabling these water solutions could save Canada billions of dollars by preventing damage to infrastructure and ecosystems, and reducing disaster payments. The federal government can carefully target existing expenditures, and financially support changes to a modernized Canada Water Act.

It is no longer desirable — or even possible — to maintain the status quo in terms of water management and governance in Canada. Our country’s water resources are changing rapidly, fuelled by a changing climate, altered hydrology and fragmented water decision-making across shared river basins and jurisdictions. 

The emerging water crisis is affecting Canadians’ safety in face of extreme events and undermining the public’s trust in government’s ability to protect homes and properties from floods and fires, provide adequate food in times of drought, provide safe water for drinking and ensure clean waterways for fishing and swimming. 

But the federal government can make the places we live more resilient and less vulnerable to climate change. And it can put Canada on the global stage by showing the world how to build lasting water security in an increasingly uncertain world.

Sunday Special: 7 Facts and/or Fictions of The American Civil War

The American Civil War – fought between the United States and 11 southern states that had formed the ‘Confederate States of America’ – began in 1861 and ended in 1865. It was America’s bloodiest clash, claiming more than 620,000 lives. Yet, argues novelist David Sanger, the four-year war is often romanticised – particularly the idea of a ‘plucky’ South against the bold and morally-driven North. Here, Sanger explores seven facts and fictions surrounding the conflict

The power of stories was instrumental to life during and after the Civil War, with rumour, superstition and tale-telling pervading the American mindset. Such stories offered relief to harsh realities, hope in the darkest moments, and alternatives to ugly truths. But what are the facts behind some of these narratives?

1 The Northern Lights over Fredericksburg

The 1862 battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia saw Northern (Union) forces led by Ambrose Burnside attack the Southern (Confederate) troops entrenched in the city. The battle was a disaster for the Union and its morale; although Northern forces vastly outnumbering the Confederates, they were undone by their own inept tactics and leadership.

Almost in reply to the carnage of Fredericksburg, some soldiers’ accounts claim the Northern lights appeared before the morning of the Union retreat. Having rebuffed a disastrous Union assault, which led to nearly 13,000 casualties, the Confederate soldiers saw it as a message from heaven celebrating their great victory. Contrastingly, the Union soldiers assumed it was a sign intended for them that signalled a turning point in the battle. Heavily referenced in both fiction and non-fiction, the extraordinary event and the godly overtones pinned upon it by the soldiers lent the defeat a strangely biblical glaze. This sentiment was echoed by President Lincoln who, after the defeat, said, “If there is a worse place than Hell, I am in it”.

2 A nation of addicts

Medical care is one of the biggest debates surrounding the Civil War: on one hand there are accounts of unnecessary butchery on the surgical bed, yet others stress that vast medical advances were made during the fours years of fighting. It is true that there are stomach-churning reports of vastly under qualified surgeons amputating too much of a limb – so much so that some soldiers would rather face the battlefield than the hospital. However, these reports overshadow the vast medical achievements made during the era.

One pervading myth is that doctors and nurses overprescribed newly available anaesthesia, causing the reported rise in narcotic addiction at the end of the 19th century. While the Union alone is estimated to have administered 10 million opium pills and nearly three million ounces of opium powder, the claim that this was the cause of such an epidemic is more fiction than fact. Some veterans no doubt developed an addiction but these are few in number – indeed, those who were addicts were denied their pension. Instead, the surge in drug use can be blamed on its wider availability, with opium importation rapidly increasing in the 1880s and 1890s.

3 The horrors of Fort Pillow

The details of the Confederate attack on the Union garrison at Fort Pillow on 12 April 1864 were disputed until relatively recently. This is due to the massacre that followed, and the relief to be had in supposing it a fiction. Yet the events that took place in Tennessee are indeed fact.

Having overwhelmed the Union soldiers holed up there, Confederate troops led by Nathan Bedford Forrest refused to accept the surrender of black Union soldiers and their white officers. This was in part down to the Confederacy’s failure to see black soldiers as legitimate prisoners of war. Confederate Congress even declared that white officers in charge of black soldiers were inciting “servile insurrection” and could, if captured, “be put to death or punished”. Despite surrendering, an unknown number of white and black Union soldiers were shot rather than taken prisoner.

Most Southerners denied the massacre while the North promised an eye-for-an-eye retribution. General Sherman of the Union Army decreed: “There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead”.

4 The shy and retiring woman

A persisting fiction surrounding the American Civil War (and just about every war since) is that it was a man’s game and women merely sat at home waiting for their loved ones to return. This is only true in the sense that it was the male view of women in the 1860s. The truth couldn’t be more different.

Having rarely trusted women with much responsibility before, many men were anxious at the prospect of their wives taking charge in their absence. Yet women seized the opportunity, often taking on complete control of farms and households. One veteran even returned to find his farm had increased in value thanks to his wife’s management.

Female participation in the war didn’t stop there though – women also served as nurses and even spies, often procuring information from unsuspecting men. Perhaps most staggeringly, some women even dressed as men and took to the battlefield under assumed names.

5 The war began and ended in the homes of Wilmer McLean

So much of the Civil War is personal: aside from the military accounts and largely propaganda-free journalism of the time, a good deal of information comes from diaries and is therefore varnished with personal experience and sentimentalism. This can often lead to bold fictions, but the story of Wilmer McLean, one almost too coincidental to be believed, is fact.

In 1861, in what was one of the earliest engagements of the war, McLean’s house near Manassas, Virginia, was a Confederate headquarters that suffered a Union shell crashing through the dining room, causing him to move to a remote village more than a hundred miles away. Three-and-a-half years later Robert E Lee and his Confederate Army were surrounded, leading the general to finally, and reluctantly, discuss terms of surrender with his opposite number, Ulysses S Grant. A suitable venue in the nearby village of Appomattox Courthouse was sought for the discussion to take place and the home of one Wilmer McLean was settled upon.

In 1861, in what was one of the earliest engagements of the war, McLean’s house near Manassas, Virginia, was a Confederate headquarters that suffered a Union shell crashing through the dining room, causing him to move to a remote village more than a hundred miles away. Three-and-a-half years later Robert E Lee and his Confederate Army were surrounded, leading the general to finally, and reluctantly, discuss terms of surrender with his opposite number, Ulysses S Grant. A suitable venue in the nearby village of Appomattox Courthouse was sought for the discussion to take place and the home of one Wilmer McLean was settled upon.

McLean’s new house and, more specifically, new living room, therefore saw Lee issue the surrender of the Confederate Army to Grant and end the Civil War.

6 Something in the woods

While researching my novel I stumbled across a fable about a strange female giant named Dzoonokwa. She would sometimes be portrayed as helpful and kindly, offering gifts to people who crossed her path in the woods. Yet the majority of fictions surrounding her make her out to be a ghastly monster – her face depicted in a grotesque purse of the lips with wild, knotted hair. Even darker, it was said she killed children and encouraged war.

While the tale is not explicitly linked to the Civil War, America was a melting pot of superstition in the 19th century with German, Irish, African and Native American folklores all brought together and interweaving. Superstition and folklore rose to the surface of many soldiers’ minds as life began to hang ever more precariously in the balance.

7 A war for the young

Fact and fiction blends nowhere more so in war than in propaganda. With the minimum age of enlistment for both the Union and Confederacy set at 18, stories were told about children who lied about their age to take up the fight. It is a fact that, such was the call to arms, that children under 18 tried to join up, sometimes succeeding when abetted by the blind eye of an officer.

Fictions were soon spun though, puffing out the details to make inspiring war stories. One such story is that of John Clem: supposedly aged nine when he tried to enlist, Clem went on to become a drummer boy for the Union and is said to have shot a Confederate colonel dead.

How much of Clem’s extraordinary Civil War experience is true is inseparable from the fictions of the time, but the fact remains that the war greatly affected the young, both at home and on the battlefield

Understanding the risks to Canada’s drinking water

Canadians pride themselves on having a great water resource. Unfortunately, while this is a fact, but its veracity is fast fading. Canada is known for its water resources, but are we not unmindful of the lurking danger? March 22 marked World Water Day, an acknowledgement of the importance of safe, clean drinking water. This year, the celebration takes place against the backdrop of water shortages.

The United Nations has concluded that there is an international water crisis, and the principal failing is one of governance. Cape Town is the latest crisis, but we can only expect water shortages to become more common.

Canada has an abundance of water for its size: It has 0.5 per cent of the world’s population but seven per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater supply.

From a global perspective, most Canadians are lucky, but the messages that emanate from academic and popular literature often paint an unsettling picture.

Our freshwater systems are under strain from threats of aging infrastructure, climate change causing floods and droughts, cyber attacks, transboundary conflicts with the U.S., contamination due to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the sale of water to foreign markets.

On top of that, more than 300,000 people who live in Indigenous communities do so under long-term boil-water orders. The federal government, however, has committed to correcting this longstanding wrong by 2021.

Many of these risks are qualitatively different, and require different approaches to addressing them. Over the past two years, my colleagues and I have studied the Canadian water sector with an eye to better understanding its risks.

We concluded that there is merit in distinguishing between the types of risks.

Infrastructure tops the list

The first category includes infrastructure risks that can result in wasted water and water contamination.

In our national survey of Canadian water service providers, aging infrastructure, such as pipelines and water treatment plants, ranked as their top risk — and by a good measure.

According to the 2016 Federation of Canadian Municipalities Infrastructure Report, the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure that is in poor condition in Canada would cost $51 billion to replace.

The solutions to the deficit include access to funding, technology, improved supply-and-demand models and better coordination across jurisdictions.

These risks are often the domain of the technical experts, but we sometimes neglect important social considerations.

People don’t like to pay for the true cost of water. According to a 2009 report, Canadians pay about 70 per cent of the real cost on their bills, and are apt to complain to elected officials if their rates increase.

Rural communities face additional barriers. With their shrinking tax bases, they are less able to pay for upgrades and attract the qualified labour to manage these assets.

Not withstanding these blind spots, most water managers and engineers are reasonably confident when it comes to understanding these risks. But the second and third categories of risk to freshwater supply are more problematic.

Lack of reliable data

Our second category includes uncertain threats such as climate change, cyber-security and malevolent actors, such as insider threats and terrorists. We don’t, however, have enough reliable information to predict the likelihood of these events.

While Canadian water service providers recognize some of the potential consequences of these threats, they spend less time worrying about these types of risks, largely because they exist outside of their routines and they don’t have adequate data, policies or training.

In these cases, risk management becomes more reliant on “fuzzy” or subjective measures; risk estimations usually include a range of possibilities and disagreements among experts.

Uncertain risks frequently generate surprises that we didn’t see coming, such as the recent news of the possibility of severe water shortages in Western and Northern Canada.

We also underestimate the interconnected nature of water infrastructure. For example, a failure in the water supply will have an immediate impact on the health sector and the economy.

When addressing uncertainty like this, we have to accept that we may have to deal with surprises from time to time. We also need to understand our willingness to accept a failure in the system; when it is low, we need to invest in redundant and more robust systems and train our staff to address circumstances that deviate from normal practice.

Governments are driven by the priorities of the day, and researchers aren’t always adept at communicating their research results. These habits don’t help.

In order to improve our understanding risks, we need to continue to support research so we can understand them better. We also need to allow those in the water sector and researchers to exchange information and learn from each other.

We should educate the public about the cost and behaviour changes that may be required to address challenges like climate change or emerging security threats.

Conflicting values and views

The third category covers the deeply held, conflicting values and beliefs about our water supply, including how it should be used and protected.

Environmental groups are opposed to fracking, for example, because they believe that fracking will contaminate the water supply, and that the consequences could be irreversible.

Fracking advocates, however, argue that the natural gas made available through fracking could meet Canada’s natural gas demands for generations, create jobs and provide clean energy security. They believe the downsides can be managed through technological advances.

Greater public engagement is required in this debate, but it is problematic.

Town halls on fracking can be reduced to sit-ins and screaming matches. More discrete consulting efforts open up the possibility of lobbying, which benefits those with resources, expertise and privileged access.

Managing these types of risks often lead to precautionary approaches, which are expensive because they often seek consensus among different groups, which slows progress and constrains innovation. These approaches also lack clear indicators of who is paying the price for failing to advance new policies, and how we can provide evidence that people will accept before moving ahead with new policies.

We need to focus on learning and negotiation and develop provisional plans until we have a better understanding of the risk of fracking. Ironically, these debates are hardly mentioned by Canadian water service providers, suggesting that these debates are too often the domain of a select few.

Balancing risks

Individually and collectively, we have a difficult time comparing risks across policy areas, like water and energy. Our bureaucratic regulatory arrangements reinforce this limitation.

People would prefer to hear what these individual sectors are doing to manage risks than contemplate the messy trade-offs that are inherent in policy decisions. How much water do we risk contaminating for more energy, and how would the benefits be distributed?

On World Water Day, we shouldn’t be framing a discussion about water in isolation of other considerations. It neglects the fundamental characteristics of the challenge before us.

In the study, it was concluded that a risk profile for the water sector is not simply a list — we need to be careful to distinguish and categorize these risks based on the knowledge we have about them. This will allow us to commit the right types of resources to the right problems at the right time.

Germany’s Secretive Arms Exports

Despite extending the Saudi arms export ban to September, Merkel has found a way to continue arming Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations. Germany has approved a new batch of weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, according to German media reports. A deal approved by Germany’s secretive National Security Council allows Germany to continue exporting armaments to Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations that are involved in the war in Yemen, despite a current ban on weapons exports to Saudi Arabia.

The National Security Council is a rarely discussed group consisting of Chancellor Angela Merkel and a number of her foremost cabinet ministers. They have taken advantage of a loophole: All German-made components, used in equipment developed jointly with another European nation, are exempt from the ban. The same goes for exports that were approved before the ban came into effect in October 2018.

Most major military systems—such as armored vehicles, tanks, airplanes and munitions—are joint European projects. The loophole exempting these exports is, therefore, a massive one.

The newest exports to Arab nations consist of armored vehicles, radar systems and munitions. Germany co-manufactures with France parts of the Cobra artillery tracking radar systems acquired by Saudi Arabia. Germany will also ship three armored personnel carriers to Qatar, and will send 92 electric drives for armored personnel carriers to Algeria.

The ban on exporting to Saudi Arabia was originally instituted in October 2018 in condemnation of the killing of Turkish journalist Jamal Khashoggi. German politicians voted two weeks ago to continue the ban into September 2019.

But because of the loopholes, and because the council’s decisions are secret, Germany can continue to claim that it does not sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, while continuing to do so.

Britain, France and other European Union nations oppose Germany’s ban on exports to Saudi Arabia, and have repeatedly called for it to be lifted. French ambassador to Germany Anne-Marie Descotes criticized the ban, calling the situation “untenable.” In an essay for Germany’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, she warned that Germany’s unpredictable weapons export policies are having “serious consequences” for Franco-German cooperation and for “the strengthening of European sovereignty.”

Now, with the ban renewed but the secret council continuing to export armaments, this unpredictability continues.

This is more than just an economic and political hindrance for Germany’s European partners. German weapons exports will prove to be an important tool in Europe’s geopolitical strategy.

Right now, the German military appears to be weak. Germany continues to fall short of its nato defense-spending targets. While Russia and China are increasingly belligerent, Germany looks lost in constant indecision.

But this is about to change.

It is dangerous to ignore Germany. Italian journalist Luigi Barzini described the unpredictable nature of the Germans. He observed that before 1870, Germans were a risk-averse people fearful of war, but given the right leader, they could transform into an aggressive power.

Barzini referred to a French writer who described pre-unification Germany this way: “They fear fatigue or bad weather … resolutions are slow, despondency is easy.” Yet as Barzini went on to observe, “as you turned a few pages of the history book, the Germans seemed completely transformed.” They became a “gray tide of faceless, disciplined soldiers with spiked helmets, a relentless unstoppable war machine.”

In 1870, the catalyst for this rapid transformation was a strong leader. History shows this has happened repeatedly: in 1914, and soon thereafter in 1939. Each time, a strong leader has unified and stirred Germans into violent action. As frustration with Chancellor Angela Merkel grows, both within Germany and throughout Europe, there will be more pressure for such a leader to emerge once more.

Saturday Special: Listening to Music During Intellectual Work

Given how many of us listen to music while studying or doing other cerebral work, you’d think psychology would have a set of clear answers as to whether the practice is likely to help or hinder performance. In fact, the research literature is rather a mess (not that that has deterred some enterprising individuals from making bold claims).

There’s the largely discredited “Mozart Effect” – the idea that listening to classical music can boost subsequent IQ, except that when first documented in the 90s the effect was on spatial reasoning specifically, not general IQ. Also, since then the finding has not replicated, or it has proven weak and is probably explained as a simple effect of music on mood or arousal on performance. And anyway, that’s about listening to music and then doing mental tasks, rather than both simultaneously. Other research on listening to music while we do mental work has suggested it can be distracting (known as the “irrelevant sound effect”), especially if we’re doing mental arithmetic or anything that involves holding information in the correct order in short-term memory.

Now, in the hope of injecting more clarity and realism into the literature, Manuel Gonzalez and John Aiello have tested the common-sense idea that the effects of background music on mental task performance will depend on three things: the nature of the music, the nature of the task, and the personality of the person. “We hope that our findings encourage researchers to adopt a more holistic, interactionist approach to investigate the effects of music (and more broadly, distractions) on task performance,” they write in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

The researchers recruited 142 undergrads (75 per cent were women) and asked them to complete two mental tasks. The simpler task involved finding and crossing out all of the letter As in a sample of text. The more complex task involved studying lists of word pairs and then trying to recall the pairs when presented with just one word from each pair.

Each task was performed while listening to one of two versions of a piece of elevator-style instrumental music – composed for the research – or no music. One version of the music was more complex than the other, featuring additional bass and drum tracks (both versions are available via the Open Science Framework). Also, depending on the precise experimental condition, the music was either quiet or louder (62 or 78 decibels). The participants also completed part of the “boredom proneness scale” to establish whether they were the kind of person who likes plenty of external stimulation or not (as measured by their agreement with statements like “it takes a lot of change and variety to keep me really happy”).

Participants’ performance was explained by an interaction between the task, the music, and their preference for external stimulation. When performing the simpler task, participants not prone to boredom did better while listening to complex music than simple music or no music, whereas boredom prone participants showed the opposite pattern, performing better with no music at all or simple music. In terms of volume, the low boredom prone were better with quiet complex music, whereas the boredom prone did better with louder complex music.

The researchers’ explanation is that for low boredom people who aren’t so keen on external stimulation, the quieter, more complex music provided just enough distraction to stop them from mind wandering from the simple task, thus boosting their task focus and performance. In contrast, the more boredom prone participants who like external stimulation tuned in too much to the complex music and were overly distracted by it, thus performing worse than when working in silence.

For the more complex task, the precise nature of the music (its complexity and volume) made no difference to results. But people low in boredom proneness benefited from having any kind of music in the background (the researchers aren’t sure why, but perhaps there were mood or arousal-based benefits not measured in this study), whereas once again the boredom prone folk with a preference for external stimulation again actually performed better with no music.

Though these findings may seem counterintuitive, the researchers’ explanation is that, for boredom prone people, the complex task provided adequate stimulation and background music interfered with this productive engagement. Supporting this interpretation, the more boredom prone participants outperformed their less boredom prone peers at the task in the no-music condition (and at an earlier, baseline cognitive test), suggesting they engaged better with the tasks (the researchers additionally noted that this result challenges the way that boredom as an emotion is usually seen as a bad thing, suggesting “it can predict constructive outcomes, such as better complex task performance”).

If you consider yourself as prone to boredom and craving of external stimulation, a tentative implication of these findings – bearing in mind they are preliminary – is that you might be better off studying or do other cerebral work without music in the background, at least not music that is too complex. On the other hand, if you are less craving of stimulation, then paradoxically some background music could boost your performance. As the researchers stated: “we offer evidence against the commonly held belief that distractions like music will always harm task performance.” They added, “our findings suggest that the relationship between music and task performance is not ‘one-size-fits-all’. In other words, music does not appear to impair or benefit performance equally for everyone.”

Part of the problem with interpreting the results is in the ambiguity of the aspect of boredom proneness that the researchers looked at – “preference for external stimulation”. Past research has generally considered boredom proneness to be associated with less desirable aspects of personality, such as having less self-control and being more impetuous, and this could fit with the idea that boredom prone participants in this research were more distracted by background music. However, as mentioned, the participants scoring higher on “preference for external stimulation” generally performed better at the tasks, thus raising questions about what aspect of personality and/or mental aptitude was really being tapped by this measure. It doesn’t help matters that there was no direct measure of attentional control and focus in the study. (In terms of other relevant personality traits, prior research has found that introverts are more distracted than extroverts by highly arousing music).

Other obvious limitations include the question of how much the featured tasks resemble real-life challenges, and the fact that people often listen to music they know and like rather than unfamiliar, instrumental music.

Still, it’s laudable that the current research attempted to consider how various factors interact in explaining the effect of music on mental performance. Gonzalez and John Aiello concluded, “we hope our research will serve as a starting point for more systematic investigation of music.”

Sindh Belongs to India

I am giving a new idea to the leaders of India, and they can use us a counterpoint to demand Sindh when discussing Kashmir.

Sindh: It is a southeastern state of Pakistan with its capital in Karachi. The name Sindh drives from the Sanskrit word Sindhu which is a river crossing both countries Pakistan and India. The state got its name because of being in the proximity of the Sindhu river.

Hind: This name also comes from the Sanskrit word Sindhu.

Sindh which is currently the province of Pakistan is a piece of land adjacent to Indus River and the Thar Desert. In past times, it was intertwined with the Indian subcontinent and located at the center of Indus valley civilization which is one of the world’s greatest pre-classical civilizations. But before being a part of Pakistan and being invaded by Mohammad bin Qasim, it had its own historical significance. In fact, the Hindu religion was the most prominent in this area and was practiced in a peaceful manner. Let’s find out more about the history of Hindu culture in Sindh.

Sindh during the pre-historic period
The very first mention of Sindh was found in the Mahabharata where the Aryan king of Sind Jayadratha fought against Lord Krishna. Then came the time of Indus valley civilization whose central location was Sindh province. The place at that time boasted of highly cultured Hindu people that had high standards of art and craftsmanship as well as a well-developed form of quasi-pictographic writing which still remains in the undeciphered state.

Very little is known about the religion of Indus valley civilization and the one practiced in Sindh but there has been an excavation of many seals with scripts inscribed on them. Some of them have been deciphered quite successfully and show that Mohenjo-Daro was a beautifully planned city of Sindh. It has the presence of public baths, brick buildings, and well-planned drainage system shows that the community lived in a very happy and organized manner. Hinduism was majorly practiced in Mohenjo-Daro as well as Sindh which seems clear from the temple rituals and ritualistic bathing is done in the great bath. This is the reason major Hindu temples are characterized by a bathing pond close to them. The great bath in Mohenjo-Daro is thus a proof of the fact. Other than this, excavations in the region have also found evidence of animal sacrifice, terracotta figurines depicting goddess images and a seal of Lord Shiva (a seated person surrounded by animals) confirms that Hinduism was practiced highly in Sindh during Indus valley civilization. Other than this, there are many scared symbols n Hindu literature such as the swastika, Om etc. which have found widespread usage in the Harappa scriptures.

The early authentic history of Sindh
One of the most authentic histories of Sindh can be recorded from the time when Alexander the Great conquered Sindh in 325BC. At this time as well, Sindh was ruled by a Hindu ruler being Raja Sahasi whose race governed Sindh for over 2000 years. Hinduism was majorly practiced in Sindh during this time but with the entry of Chandragupta Maurya in 313 BC there was an entry of Buddhism as well. The Buddhist city of Siraj-Ji-Takri is still located in the upper part of Sindh. It has visible ruins in the form of small mounds and other architectural remains that depict the presence of Buddha culture. However, there was a revival of Hindu religion during the Gupta period which then became dominated culture in Sindh. It flourished well all over India, especially in the Sindh region. There was a building of many temples and shrines throughout the region. In fact, the Gupta Empire made Hinduism so popular in Sindh that it was regarded as a unifying religion and as a means to attain personal salvation. But Buddhism also remained a popular religion and both of them were practiced peacefully. In all religious freedom was practiced by the Guts in Sindh. For example, the Brahmins continued with the job of tax collection while Buddhist monk still focused on taking care of their monasteries. Before the invasion of Mohammed bin Qasim, Hinduism was the most prominent religion in Sindh that constituted about 64 percent of percent of the total population. The last ruler before the invasion of Mohammed bin Qasim in Sindh was Raja Dahir who was a Hindu Brahmin. He has a big role in opposing the invasion.

Hinduism flourished in Sindh with the greatest Hindu civilisations in the world governing Sindh through awe-inspiring technological advances and unity

The current state of Sindh is very disturbing. Long before Kashmiri Pandits massacre happened in Kashmir, Hindu Sindhis in the North Western region of Indian sub-continent were killed, and temples were destroyed.

Libraries were burnt, the knowledge and the history completely slaughtered.

I am thankful to India for accepting Hindu refugees from Sindh and I take pride in being a Hindu-Sindhi living in India. Every single Sindhi Hindu living in India lost their dear ones during partition and I criticize those two lawyers of Indian history for the same.

I hope we are able to bring back our lost Hindu-Sindhi history and culture that was destroyed by invasions. I am currently working on a book that will act as an encyclopedia for the future generation, and I really hope to see Sindh return back to India.

Why?
Sindh and Hind cannot be separated.
Jai Jhulelal!
Jai Hind!

Russian Icebreakers and the War for the Arctic

Russia’s icebreaker fleet in the Baltic Sea is a significant economic asset. But there’s another region where Russia’s expanding fleet of icebreakers is making a more meaningful difference, not just economically but also militarily: the Arctic.

Historically, the frigid Arctic has been relatively free of the geopolitical struggles among world powers that have influenced most other regions. But in recent decades, that has begun to change. The region has become increasingly important to the five Arctic nations: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States. None has been more determined to dominate the Arctic than Russia, and it is accomplishing its objective largely with icebreakers.

Energy and Minerals

The Arctic is estimated to hold a quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves, as well as vast caches of minerals, such as gold, zinc and platinum, altogether worth an estimated $30 trillion. The Russians are tapping into this wealth at unprecedented rates.

The Yamal liquid natural gas plant is one notable example. It is located almost 380 miles north of the Arctic Circle line, close to the polar circle. In the local Nenets language, Yamal literally means “end of the world.” Temperatures around the Yamal Peninsula drop as low as 58 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, for two months each year there is zero sunlight, and for seven to nine months, the waters around this wasteland are frozen solid in ice up to seven feet thick. Until mining facilities are opened on the moon, you will not find a more hostile environment for industry than that of Yamal LNG.

But thanks to a new fleet of 15 Arc7 icebreakers that can carry liquefied natural gas shipments, the Russians can keep operations humming year-round as they extract and transport Yamal’s 44 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.

Bloomberg discussed the power of these new LNG icebreakers in July, writing that “any one of the vessels could power as many as 35,000 U.S. homes.” This power is needed because “bending ice into submission requires enormous power.”

A Grand Vision and a Tightening Grip

During a visit to Yamal LNG’s facilities in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear that the plant and its icebreakers are part of a larger vision to dominate the Arctic. “This is perhaps the largest step forward in our developing of the Arctic,” he said. “Now we can safely say that Russia will expand through the Arctic this and next century.”

A major part of this expansion is development of the Northern Sea Route, which runs along Russia’s Arctic coast from the Kara Sea to the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With this route, Russia can ship gas from Yamal and other Arctic locations to energy-thirsty Eastern nations weeks faster than the time required to go west around Europe and through the Suez Canal. In the case of China, the most energy-thirsty nation of all, using the Northern Sea Route cuts shipment times by as much as 25 days.

Georgia Today wrote on April 15 that this shipping route gives a “major boost” to Russia’s economy, due largely to how it better connects Russia and China. If current trends persist, “we might have a situation when the Russians for the first time in their history border water where major world commercial activity unfolds.”

And the Russians are now tightening their grip on this route in a troubling way. In March, the Russian government announced that foreign ships sailing this route must submit a request 45 days in advance, bring a Russian maritime pilot aboard for the crossing, and pay hefty additional transit fees. Russia says any vessel that fails to comply can be detained and even “eliminated.” Even if a foreign vessel abides by all of the requirements, Russian authorities said they can reject any request for passage with no explanation.

The worrisome—and illegal—part of these new Russian rules concerns the Bering Strait, which lies between Russia and the United States. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UBCLOS) says waters 200 nautical miles from a given nation’s coast constitute that country’s exclusive economic zone, and that the nation is granted control over them. But international straits, such as the Bering Strait, are specifically not included in exclusive economic zones. And the UNCLOS guarantees freedom of navigation through them.

Contrary to the international laws, Russia insists that its Northern Sea Route (NSR) includes the Bering Strait and says its new rules apply to this sea gate. “Indeed, the NSR passes not only within Russia’s territorial waters, nevertheless, our country has the legal right to regulate navigation along the entire route,” Kamil Bekyashev, vice president of the Russian Maritime Law Association, said in March.

This is an illegal policy. And because of it, Sean Fahey, a U.S. Coast Guard commander and professor of international law, warned recently that “the rights and freedoms all states enjoy to operate ships and aircraft in the maritime domain—may become the most important strategic issue in the region.”

But because of an ever widening “icebreaker gap” between Russia and the rest of the world, the U.S. is poorly positioned to challenge Russia’s tightening grip on the Arctic.

‘King of the Arctic’

“You can’t explore the depths of the Arctic, or traverse its seas, if you can’t get to it,” Terrell Starr wrote for Foxtrot Alpha. “Russia’s icebreakers make it king of the Arctic, and America is just a pauper.”

With 46 vessels, including six nuclear-powered models, Russia already has the world’s largest fleet of icebreakers by far. A distant second place, with 10 ships, goes to Finland. Canada has seven, as does Sweden. The United States has five, none of which are nuclear.

The number of icebreaker ships alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Only Russia and the U.S. operate “heavy” icebreakers, which have increased power and can break through thicker ice packs. But here again, Russia has a major advantage with two operational heavy icebreakers and four more in refit. The U.S., meanwhile, has just one, the 42-year-old USCGC Polar Star, which also operates in Antarctica, on the other side of the globe.

Russia’s heavy icebreakers are not only considerably newer than the Polar Star, but they also remain in the Arctic year-round. And Putin says that by 2035, Russia will have 13 heavy icebreakers, including nine nuclear-powered behemoths.

Here is footage of a Russian icebreaker in action (blaring patriotic music at a passing foreign ship):

In addition to the 15 new Arc7s now coming online, Russia is also near launching the Arktika-class (LK-60Ya/Pr. 22220) of heavy nuclear icebreakers. These 33,000-ton vessels will undergo sea trials at the end of this year. Also in the works for Russia is the nuclear-powered Lider-class (LK-110Ya/Pr. 10510) icebreaker, which will weigh in at about 71,000 tons, making it the world’s heaviest icebreaker many times over. The Polar Star, for comparison, weighs around 10,000 tons.

So the vast icebreaker gap is set to further widen. “The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers,” U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan recently said. “Russia has superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”

Russia’s fleet of icebreakers will continue to maintain and expand its “superhighways” through the Arctic. And the U.S. and other powers will find it ever more difficult to challenge Putin’s control over the region.

Military Matters

In the last few years, Russia has also rushed to revive many abandoned Soviet military bases in the Arctic. Thanks in large part to its fleet of icebreakers, the Russians have revamped airstrips and radar facilities on numerous islands, established four new Arctic brigade command units, opened 16 Deepwater ports, built new air and radar bases, and have deployed anti-ship and ground-to-air missile systems to the area.

Later this year, the Russian military will hold large-scale drills in the Arctic archipelagos of the New Siberian Islands and Novaya Zemlya.

“The modernization of Arctic forces and of Arctic military infrastructure is taking place at an unprecedented pace not seen even in Soviet times,” Mikhail Barabanov, editor in chief of Moscow Defense Brief, told Reuters.

With these bases and surface-to-air and antiship missiles, Russia can guard its energy claims in the region and enforce its new rules for the Northern Sea Route, whether or not the other Arctic nations agree with the legality of them.

‘A Dangerous New Era’

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia trudged through the next decade as a depleted, exhausted, unstable nation. It was outside the mainstream of international affairs, and many Westerners mostly ignored it.

But then Vladimir Putin came to power and began to right the ship and change its course. In August 2008, he shocked much of the world by invading the former Soviet nation of Georgia and bringing one fifth of its internationally recognized territory under Russian control.

Russia’s attack on Georgia in August marks the beginning of a dangerous new era in history. This was the first military strike of a rising Asian superpower—and there will be more! … Russia is determined to be an energy superpower in an age when the whole modern world is hungry for energy. … We have witnessed the beginning of a new era!

One could easily name other former Soviet nation Russia would likely set its sights on next: “Will a crisis occur over Ukraine? That area is the breadbasket of Russia, and surely it is willing to wage war over that as well.”

Time proved that forecast accurate, with Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and destabilization of Ukraine’s eastern regions. Putin had literally redrawn the borders of Europe—twice.

Since then, Putin has continued using his power to prevent Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries from developing closer relations with Europe. He has pushed America out of his backyard by persuading Kyrgyzstan to evict the U.S. from Manas Air Base in 2014. He has made Russia a key player in the Middle East, where it has weakened U.S. influence, assisted the brutal Syrian regime, and helped Iran maintain its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Putin has also transformed Russia’s military into a modern and more lethal 21st-century force, including his intensification of efforts to militarize and control the Arctic.

It is clear that Putin is restoring Russia’s power and boosting its international relevance back toward Soviet levels

Weekend Special: No Decline, but change in Globalization

The history of trade reflects the ongoing march of technological innovation. This column argues that despite today’s increased trade tensions, rising nationalism, and slowdown in global goods trade, globalisation is not in retreat. Instead, it is entering a new chapter that is being driven by flows of information and data, as well as technological changes that are reshaping industry value chains.

Many forces shape trade flows, including trade policies, changes in the nature and location of consumer demand, and differentials in the costs of labour and other inputs across geographies. Another important, but underappreciated, driver of trade flows is technology.

The history of trade reflects the ongoing march of new technological innovations. After the Second Industrial Revolution, for example, the introduction of steamships and railroads changed the economics of trading across national borders. Likewise, the digital revolution of the 1990s and early 2000s enabled companies to interact with far-flung suppliers and customers (Baldwin 2016). Global value chains existed before the internet, but the internet further enabled fragmentation and offshoring of production by vastly improving coordination and communication costs. As China and other developing countries began participating in these production networks of specialised suppliers and assembly plants, trade flows soared and stretched around the world.

Today the next generation of technologies will reshape trade flows and global value chains again. But unlike the previous ICT revolution, these innovations will have a more varied and complex effect on trade in the years ahead. Some advances, like digital platforms, blockchain, and the Internet of Things, will continue to reduce transaction and logistics costs, thereby fuelling trade (WTO 2018). But other technologies may reduce trade flows by changing the economics and location of production, and transforming the actual content of what is bought and sold across borders.

The net impact of the entire wave of new technologies is unclear, but in plausible future scenarios they could dampen goods trade while further boosting flows of services and data. Evidence of technology increasing data and service trade has been found in previous research (e.g. Bughin and Lund 2017, Freund and Weinhold 2000), but the literature to date has not provided evidence at a detailed level of value chains. For companies and countries alike, these trends will benefit some companies, but will also create losers. A growing imperative for all is to focus on digital skills and infrastructure, service capabilities, and innovation. In this column we consider some of the possible effects and estimate the magnitude of potential change.

Some technologies will improve trade logistics and transaction costs, boosting goods trade

Companies trading across borders often lose time and money to customs processing or delays in international shipments and payments. But a number of new technologies can ease these frictions.

Digital platforms, for instance, connect buyers and sellers directly, lowering the costs of search and coordination (McAfee and Brynjolfsson 2017). They have created seamless global marketplaces in areas such as e-commerce, payments, travel, learning, and labour services – and there is room for much more growth. Alibaba’s AliResearch projects that cross-border B2C e-commerce sales alone will reach approximately $1 trillion by 2020. B2B e-commerce could be five or six times as that figure. While some of those transactions may substitute for traditional offline trade flows, e-commerce could still spur some $1.3 trillion to $2.1 trillion in incremental trade by 2030, boosting trade in manufactured goods by 6–10%. This will include many small businesses that can directly reach customers in other countries. EBay, Alibaba, Amazon, Jumia and other online marketplaces are enabling the rise of ‘micro-multinationals’ – today, startups tap global talent, finance, and consumers from day one (McKinsey Global Institute 2016).

Logistics technologies also continue to improve. The Internet of Things can track shipments in real time, while AI can route trucks based on current road conditions. Automated document processing can speed goods through customs. Some companies are developing fleets of self-driving trucks, and a number of ports worldwide have introduced automated cranes and guided vehicles that can unload, stack, and reload containers faster and with fewer errors. Blockchain has potential for tracking shipments and triggering faster automated payments, although it will be some time before its scalability and success in trade can be determined.

We calculate that this group of technologies could reduce shipping and customs processing times by 16–28%. The academic literature finds that a 1% reduction in trade costs can result in a 0.4% increase in trade flows (Djankov et al. 2010, Hausman et al. 2013). Based on these figures, we estimate that these technologies together could potentially boost overall trade by 6–11% by 2030 compared to the baseline, worth some $4.7 trillion in annual trade. Looking at each country’s average processing times and bilateral flows, it appears that Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia are among the countries that could make the biggest gains.

Automation and additive manufacturing change production processes and the relative importance of inputs, and may reduce goods trade

The diffusion of automation and artificial intelligence technologies suggests that multiple industries will experience a profound shift in the importance of capital versus labour (McKinsey Global Institute 2017). The growing adoption of automation and AI in manufacturing makes labour costs less important and other factors – such as proximity to consumer markets, access to resources, workforce skills, and infrastructure quality – more important.

As a result, we can already see a trend towards moving production closer to end consumer markets, such as the US and the EU. Today, only 18% of goods trade is from a low-wage to a high-wage country, and that share is shrinking in the most labour-intensive industries, such as textiles and apparel. Both Adidas and Nike, for instance, have designed new lines of athletic shoes that make them amenable to full automation of the production process – and they have opened those new factories in Germany and the US (Adidas) and Mexico (Nike).

In addition to affecting the trade in manufactured goods, automation will influence trade in services. Many call centre and help desk services are already ‘staffed’ by virtual agents, which are adding natural language processing abilities and beginning to handle a wider range of tasks. This is leading some companies to automate customer support and back-office services rather than offshoring them. This trend could reduce the $160 billion global market for business process outsourcing, now one of the most heavily traded service sectors.

Additive manufacturing (3D printing) could also influence future trade flows. Most experts believe it will not replace mass production over the next decade; its cost, speed, and quality are still limitations. But it is gaining traction for prototypes, replacement parts, toys, shoes, and medical devices. Since 3D-printed goods can be produced near the point of use, they would eliminate the need for international shipping (although they may increase data flows as design files are transmitted). While this could reduce trade in some individual products substantially, the drop is unlikely to amount to more than a few percentage points across all manufactured goods by 2030. In some cases, additive manufacturing could even spur trade by enabling customisation.

Overall, we estimate that automation, AI, and additive manufacturing could collectively reduce global goods trade by up to 10% by 2030, as compared to the baseline, or $4 trillion in annual trade flows. However, this reflects only the direct impact of these technologies on enabling production closer to end consumers in advanced economies. It is also possible that these technologies could lead to nearshoring and regionalisation of trade instead of reshoring in advanced economies, impacting both modes of transportation (e.g. overland and air cargo replacing container shipping) and trade corridors. We already see that intra-regional trade has grown faster than inter-regional trade since 2013, a trend seen worldwide but particularly notable as regional value chains are developed in Asia and in the EU28 (McKinsey Global Institute 2019).

New technologies may also have indirect – and unexpected – impacts on trade flows

As technology transforms some products and services, it will also alter the content and volume of trade flows. Some of these may have unexpected consequences for trade flows.

Renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind, are less tradable than carbon-based fuels such as coal and LNG. The ongoing decarbonisation of economies and shift to renewable energy may therefore reduce trade in energy.

As another example of indirect impacts on trade, growing adoption of electric vehicles could reduce trade in auto parts. McKinsey estimates that electric vehicles will make up some 17% of total car sales globally by 2030 (up from 1% in 2017), but as their drivetrains have only about 15% as many moving parts as internal combustion engines, this trend could reduce the hundreds of billions of annual trade in vehicle parts by up to 10% while also dampening oil imports (over half of which are used in transportation).

The shift from physical to digital flows that started years ago with individual movies, albums, and games is now evolving once again as companies such as Netflix, Tencent Video, and Spotify popularise streaming and subscription models. Streaming now accounts for nearly 40% of global recorded music revenues. Cloud computing uses a similar pay-as-you-go or subscription model for storage and software, freeing users from making heavy capital investments in their own IT infrastructure. The shift from physical goods to streaming, leasing, and pay-as-you go services is only in its infancy. This will affect not only the composition of trade – from physical goods to services – but likely also the relative value of services.

The rising importance of services

The net impact of these countervailing forces on global trade flows is uncertain. But in plausible scenarios, it is quite possible that the next impact could be to further accelerate the shift in global trade flows from goods to services. This is consistent with other research on the causes of the slowdown in trade (Timmer et al. 2016).

Already today, services trade is growing 60% faster than goods trade overall. Some types of services, such as IT services, telecom, business services, and IP royalties, are growing 2-3 times as fast as goods trade. Moreover, 30% of the value of traded goods comes from the embedded services in their production, such as engineering and design, financial services, distribution, and marketing (Miroudot and Cadestin 2017). Counted in value-added terms, services already account for at least 45% of global trade flows.

5G wireless networks, virtual reality, and augmented reality may all give a boost to services in the future. The advent of ultra-fast 5G wireless networks opens new possibilities for delivering services globally. Remote surgery, for example, may become more viable as networks transmit sharp images without any delays and robots respond more precisely to remote manipulation. In industrial plants, 5G can support augmented and virtual reality-based maintenance from remote locations, creating new service and data flows.

Concluding remarks

Despite the increased trade tensions, rise of nationalism, and well-documented slowdown in global goods trade, globalisation is not in retreat (Lund and Tyson 2018). Rather it is entering a new chapter that is being driven by the flows of information and data, as well as technological changes reshaping industry value chains.

Middle East Witnesses A New Generation of Women Leaders Making Waves

When we hear the words ‘diplomat’ or ‘parliamentarian’, people often picture a man. But regionally and around the globe, more countries are diversifying the professionals who represent them, and are elevating women to positions of power – not just to listen and observe, but to participate at the decision-making level. 

Having more women in government is crucial for many reasons. Serving as role models tops the list, but more importantly these women get to put women’s issues front and centre on the global agenda. When women are meaningfully represented and engaged in leadership roles, then the laws, rulings, and decisions are more likely to be inclusive and representative and will take diverse views into account. 

Furthermore, countries with a greater proportion of women as decision-makers in legislatures have lower levels of income inequality. Interestingly, having more women in government is said to be good for health – women in Canada’s government have reduced mortality rates by triggering specific types of health-promoting expenditures. In addition, according to McKinsey Global Institute report, $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 if gender equality is advanced, of which $0.6 trillion will be added to the MENA countries’ GDP. 

Around the world, we have a long way to go. As of November 2018, only 24% of all national parliamentarians were women, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995. As of January 2019, 11 women worldwide are serving as heads of state and 10 are serving as heads of government.

Part of what keeps representation low are the stereotypes and stigma regarding a woman’s place in society. In the past in Palestine, where I come from, most people didn’t think a woman could run for office or be a diplomat. Today, however, the government has shown strong commitment to supporting women in taking on these roles, and there are many examples that confirm their investments are paying off. 

The first role model was Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. She is an academic, a prominent politician and a strong activist for gender equality, and thus living proof that women can thrive as leaders and diplomats. Dr. Ashrawi paved the way, but others have since followed. There are several women in the region one can look up to for guidance. In Palestine, for instance, ambassadors Dr. Amal Jadou, Feda Abdelhady and Dr. Linda Sobeh have proven excellence in strengthening Palestine’s diplomatic relations with other nations. 

Arab women are also making waves. In Bahrain, women comprise a record-breaking one-third of Bahrain’s foreign ministry personnel. And earlier this year, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud became the first female ambassador to represent Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, too, Raya Al-Hassan became the first female interior minister in the entire Arab world.

This is in large part because most governments in the MENA region have consciously invested in women and gender balance. They are doing this by increasing the number of programs aimed at recruiting a new generation of female diplomats.

Ascending a career ladder in a male-dominated society has not been an easy task. Questioning women’s capabilities is a common occurrence, which imposes pressure and also hampers the creation of positive change. However, colleagues who believe in skills rather than genders help shed light on the importance of supporting people with high potential. 

Indeed, engaging women in diplomacy helps to integrate universal values of dialogue and speeds up international development and cooperation. That is due to women’s ability to be more effective at building coalitions. For instance, as a young leader at Women Deliver, the community has given inspiring examples of women-led initiatives that have brought the global community tangible benefits. One example is She’s the First, which revolves around educating girls to be better equipped to make decisions and bolster the economy, in aim to achieve gender equality. As Zainab Salbi, founder of the peace and security non-profit Women for Women International, puts it: “Like life, peace begins with women. We are the first to forge lines of alliance and collaboration across conflict divides.” 

It is exciting to see Arab women on the move. Taking the stage is the first step. They are working towards a world in which both genders are equal and anyone in any region in the world can grow up to represent and lead their nations, and also to commit to further positive change.

Notre Dame and Meenakshi Temple Suffer Identically

Last year, a fire rampaged through a 450 year old section of Madurai’s stunning Meenakshi temple, a revered place of worship and a Unesco World Heritage Site— much like the Notre Dame Cathedral, actually. Though the fire did not devastate the older part of the grand complex devoted to Parvati and Sundareswarar (unlike the basilica in Paris) the potential for further damage was definitely there.

But that fire got scarcely a mention beyond south Indian media outlets. Even if the news of the fire at Meenakshi temple had been more widely known, would it have elicited the kind of reaction Notre Dame’s devastation did from our cosmopolitan Indians? I fear not. And the reason is that many of us know more about the architectural and religious marvels abroad than in India.

The marvels of Meenakshi Temple—a contemporary of Paris’ Notre Dame go beyond the towering, intricately carved gopurams and the thousand-pillared hall. Architects and mathematicians have been awestruck by its manifestations of the rule of what is now known as the Fibonacci Sequence in its design to optimise acoustics. Even the statues are carved in a convex orientation to reduce echo!

Given the breathless paeans being sung about Notre Dame in Paris, it was not a landmark till rather recently in its long life. Though it was begun in the 12th century and completed in the 13th, it only came into prominence when Napoleon was crowned there. Coronations of 31 French monarchs since 1027 were at the stunning 13th century Notre Dame Cathedral at Reims in northern France.

But Notre Dame of Reims was also burnt down—due to German shelling in September 1914. And the black-and-white photos of a century ago are eerily similar to the images beamed on live TV on April 15: smoke billowing as the long wooden roof burned and collapsed. More German bombings in later years ensured only the buttressed stone-walled shell of the cathedral remained.

Included in 1862 as a Monument of National Importance, the magnificent Our Lady of Reims Cathedral, like its Parisian sibling, was also admired for its Gothic architecture, stained glass windows and statuary. In the 1914 fire, the wooden pews were incinerated, stained glass windows shattered and carvings destroyed. Even the famous “smiling angel” of Reims was decapitated.

Even eerier is the fact that the current 13th-century cathedral in Reims is the result of a century-long rebuild on the site of an older church also destroyed by fire. But its reconstruction after World War I was far more speedy—it re-opened for worship in 1938. But minor improvements continued for decades including the installation of stained glass windows by Marc Chagall in 1974.

Thus there is every reason to believe that Notre Dame of Paris will also be lovingly rebuilt. But how many know that Meenakshi Temple—referred to in 6th century Tamil literature—was also damaged in the 14th century. Not by fire, however, but by the invading army of Alauddin Khilji led by Malik Kafur that laid siege on Madurai. Only after a hefty ransom was paid did the army not destroy it entirely.

The gigantic Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Thiruchirapalli and the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram have also survived several fires—and pillaging medieval armies— at around the same time as the earlier destructions of the Notre Dame cathedrals in France. Both South Indian temples were also repaired and rebuilt by rulers in the 14th to 17th centuries eventually.

So it is befitting, really, that two French corporate czars—Francois-Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault have pledged E100 million and E200million respectively already to rebuild Notre Dame of Paris. Many Indians distressed by the sight of it burning will be relieved. Hopefully, they will now also want to learn more about Indian places of worship that have also had several avatars after destruction.

The Great Dilemma of Indian Politics

“Am I a Liberal?” is a masterpiece written by economist John Maynard Keynes detailing his dilemma on which political party does he most identify with. Unfortunately, it is his dilemma that many of the young Indians share today.

Only that ours is even more complicated. Keynes famously noted the following: “On the one side, Conservatism is a well-defined entity – with a right of diehards, to give it (the party) strength and passion and the left of what one may call ‘the best type’ of educated, humane, Conservative free traders, to lend it moral and intellectual respectability. On the other side, Labour is also well defined – with a left of catastrophists, to give it strength and passion, and the right of what one may call ‘the best type’ of educated, humane, socialistic reformers, to lend it moral and intellectual respectability”.

Our dilemma is more complex. There seems to be little space for those on either side who lend politics the moral and intellectual respectability.

This is because ‘the best type of educated’ and humane ones in our country have themselves taken extreme sides or have become subservient to the power and influence of the extremists of their parties. In this attempt, the best types have become one or the other version of extremists themselves. Our social media feeds are a testimony to that. They have completely abandoned any efforts to bridge the gaps between the hardliners and the catastrophists and have joined their bandwagons themselves, thereby losing whatever legitimacy they had. Moreover, the legitimacy of intellectuals on either side – left and right – of the country has been seriously dented over the past years.

This is not because of any particular party’s doings but is a result of a larger sociological trend.

The so called best educated ones, in their attempt to “awaken” the masses have fallen into disconnect with the masses. They are with them, they even lead their movements – organizing protests and writing op-eds; but also, they have formed elite groups of their own which on the left lust over the name dropping of European philosophers such as Boudreaux, Marx, Foucault and Beauvoir and those on the right pledge allegiance to the ludicrously wealthy business interests.

Nevertheless, they do form exclusive circles where they agree to lead the masses and represent the masses, but not be one with them. This pretense unsurprisingly causes a dent on their legitimacy and unlike the intellectuals they pay allegiance to – whose opinions lead the masses – their own opinions are widely disregarded by the common citizens.

Our political leaders are an equally exclusive club. For the Indian National Congress, leadership means that you need to be from a traditionally privileged family or at least a second generation of elite. For the BJP, leadership means that you need to be an over-dramatic die-hard Hindu fanatic or a technically trained middle-class individual who is ready to turn a blind eye to Hindu fanaticism.

The Aam Admi Party was an interesting experiment in this regard as it allowed leadership space for those who were socially upwardly mobile, young, and educated. Yet the speedy oligopolization of the party and the image of a nagging, attention seeking lightweight dimmed a lot of its charm. The regional parties are family owned which therefore leaves scant room for a politically conscious centrist to rise up the political ranks and dream of reaching the top in any party.

Not everyone reaches the pinnacle of a party in politics but the prospect of getting there is a subconscious yet strong attraction for a political upstart. To an extent, this explains the appeal of the BJP among the youth. After-all, the charm of democracy is that “anyone can be the ruler” (and I use the word ruler with caution and sarcastic contempt).

Constitution sets the political structure of democracy, but parties reflect the democratic culture of a nation. Unfortunately, in India we have not been able to evolve into a position where we have an actual “mass-based party” in the real sense of the word.

We are still dependent on the cult of personality to keep the party together. Now one may argue that it is the same in other parts of the world, that everywhere it is a personality that binds a party together. However, there is a difference. The difference is that in other parts of the world, especially in more developed democracies, personalities play a role in increasing or decreasing the influence of a party but do not count as existential elements necessary for the survival of the party itself.

In India, the moment you remove a leader from the party – all its charm is lost and there is no binding force to ensure cooperation even internally among the party members. One would think that the BJP is an exception this phenomenon, but it is not. In different periods of its development, without the cult of the leader it has found itself in existential crisis as well.

Why are we so dependent on a leader in India? Leadership is ‘an’ instrument indeed everywhere in the world, but in our culture, it is ‘the’ instrument. Why? Our feudal and colonial past is one explanation. Another is that in a land which has seen so much distress, the impulse to submit all decision-making in the hands of a leader who can claim to have a solution out of misery is a cognitively easier option.

Studies in behavioural economics have indeed demonstrated how poverty and scarcity reduce our mental bandwidth to take decisions.

Scarcity inflicts a cognitive burden on people and as a result the quality of making decisions in the face of complex problems deteriorates and moreover the willingness of making challenging decreases as well.

The propensity towards indulgence also increases in a scarcity situation, even if the indulgence is harmful in the longer term.

Therefore, perhaps the tendency to jump to conclusions, demonstrate aggression, and scapegoating the “other” is substantially high in our country as it provides at least some form of psychological reward to the struggling masses.

So, the great dilemma of India politics today is that there is no party which allows of large-scale enfranchisement at the top level. The reason is culturally defined – our culture of giving all agency to an all-powerful leader or satrap, which in turn is caused by a history of scarcity, feudalism and colonialism.

The way out is perhaps economic development and the intellectuals shaping the culture in a manner that builds, rather than burns bridges.

Brexit Imbroglio

With the EU deciding to extend the deadline for the UK to implement Brexit – the new D-Day is now October 31 – the British Parliament now has to figure out how to break the deadlock over the withdrawal agreement. It will be recalled that the withdrawal agreement was worked out between London and Brussels last year. However, the British Parliament has rejected the divorce deal thrice. At the same time, British MPs have also voted against leaving the EU without a deal. This puts British Prime Minister Theresa May in an awkward position. She has been trying to sell the withdrawal agreement even when it’s clear that her Conservative Party is split three ways.

These include remainers who want the UK to remain in the EU bloc, soft-Brexiteers whom May supposedly champions, and hard-Brexiteers who want the UK to get out of the EU as soon as possible. Against this backdrop, May is now reaching out to the opposition Labour Party to work out a compromise exit plan. But Labour appears to be more interested in making May sweat – and thereby possibly force fresh elections – rather than genuinely help her out. Add to this calls from within the Conservative Party for May to step down over her handling of the Brexit process, and the whole thing is in a shambles.

It’s clear now that even after almost three years since the Brexit referendum, the British Parliament is unable to reconcile that vote and what it knows are going to be the costs of leaving EU. Exiting the European bloc was always going to be a complicated process given how interlinked UK businesses and people have become with the EU. The Brexit referendum result was driven by populist forces that exacerbated the latent fears of the British public towards foreign migrants in the UK. A whole campaign was created – a lot of it with misinformation – around how the UK was being swamped by foreigners even though it wasn’t able to take care of its own people. And being part of the EU supposedly made Britain vulnerable.

Needless to say this was utter rubbish and reflected the British leadership’s failure to manage the fallout of the 2008 global economic downturn. And while the British leadership gave into populist sentiments back then – largely due to its desire to stay in power – it is now trying to fudge the Brexit referendum’s mandate. Thus, Brexit seemingly had many fathers but nobody wants to take responsibility now to actually make it happen.

Given this scenario, the only practical way forward is to go back to the British public and hold another referendum. For all you know, the British people might to ready to end this charade and reject Brexit. In fact, the European Court has said that the UK can actually reverse Brexit on its own. But the British Parliament is unlikely to vote this way given how scared it is of upsetting public opinion. Thus, a second referendum will help clear the confusion and give British MPs a freer hand. Britain is in the midst of a profound political crisis and testing everyone’s patience here in Europe. The European Union leaders have granted six more months to Therese May to get her house in order and make a final decision on some kind of deal, indicating clear-cut demarcations of how the future cooperation with EU is supposed to materialize. It may not be the last time the brits will have kicked the can further down the road, as the political melodrama continues. It seems more likely than before that a second referendum might become a workable outcome, which would fit both the Conservatives and the Labour Party. The Electoral Commission, though, would recommend that legislation and decision to hold a second referendum ought to be announced at least six months in advance in order to ensure that campaigners and electoral administrators have the required time to inspect and ensure the impartiality and fairness of the process.

Several political arguments based on the present stalemate have been offered as a justification for a second referendum on brexit. But the most pressing case for a second referendum came from Switzerland’s Supreme Court, which this week  overturned a nationwide referendum for the first time in the country’s modern history. The reason for demanding a new referendum was that the information given to voters was insufficient. Now this, too, is a rare moment in Switzerland’s history. It is the first time a result has been nullified in Switzerland, where referendums have become a regular exercise in making decisions, such as who should be taxed more and how.

Switzerland is known for its direct democracy, which allows any group of voters in the country to force a nationwide referendum on a viable proposal by gathering more than 100,000 signatures. If you fulfill that criterium, you can ask for a legitimate referendum on a political issue.

Switzerland’s Supreme Court, based on the argument that insufficient and inadequate information was provided to voters before the referendum, has accepted the demand to hold a new one in the near future. The federal government had provided the incorrect information that only 80,000 married couples were penalised by the tax regime. The correct figures were five and half times higher, affecting 454,000 couples, a figure much higher than depicted by the government. Hence the valid argument that people did not have sound and reliable facts on which to base their votes.

The court argued that the voters had been “informed erroneously and in an incomplete way”. It further added that given the tight outcome of the referendum and the seriousness of the irregularities, it is possible that the outcome would have been different.

This very argument can be extrapolated and applied to the first referendum held in Britain in 2016 without any indication of disingenuity.

If only Britain had a written constitution, and if a provision for the interference of the Supreme Court in matters of a constitutional crisis was enshrined, delegating the rightful interference to the Supreme Court, this political crisis could possibly had been avoided on similar lines. The British political system is probably in need of a major overhaul, some would argue. Since Britain does not have a written constitution, its leaders could for once be brave enough to think beyond party considerations and demand a second referendum based on similar arguments to the one given by the Supreme Court of Switzerland.

Remain campaigners are vociferously arguing that the voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum were not sufficiently informed, and they have a point.
Britain is currently the world’s fifth-largest economy and has benefitted tremendously by joining the European Union, and it is imperative for its citizens to reconsider the economic and social implications of leaving the Union in whatever form.

We have been witnesses to a theatrical performance by both Conservative and Labour members of Parliament, who keep sequentially voting down each and every plan put forth by the government. At the moment, there seems to be lacking majority for any single proposal and there are huge divisions within the two major parties. Some Conservative members are interested in forcing Therese May to resign, which may make matters worse, and an untimely election would hardly solve the impossible impasse if it results in a hung parliament.

The British people had no idea whatsoever of the utterly misleading theatrical drama unfolding in front of their eyes, deepening the possibility of a post-Brexit economic crisis. The British people ought to be presented with the cold and clear facts about what is at stake for them and the rest of the continent.

Experts would argue that the six-month extension period is not enough, but legislating on a vote before October 31 is still possible. If the Election commission demands a required time of minimum six months, then it is incumbent on the European Union leaders to grant that extension, keeping in mind how much the possible outcome of Britain rejoining the Union would rejuvenate the EU project of peace and economic cooperation.

Tens of thousands of people have recently participated in marches in Britain, demanding a new referendum, so the idea seems to be gaining ground.  Neither the Labour Party nor the Tories can possibly ignore the growing resentment and fatigue among the people, who want to take the control back and bring the country back on the right track.

The European Union needs to show patience and understanding of this growing movement among the British people. This might eventually rectify the results of the previous referendum, which has brought the worst crisis upon the country since the Second World War.

It is important here to also take an overall strategic view of Brexit. The latter will certainly dent the EU. So one must ask which are the forces that are looking to weaken European unity at this point. The Russians? The Americans? Whoever they are they certainly don’t have the UK’s interests in mind. Given that the global order is going through a period of disruptions and changes, it is vital that Europe remains the vanguard of liberal values, free trade and multilateral cooperation. These are things that are needed even more today given the complicated challenges that the international community faces – from tackling climate change to shepherding Artificial Intelligence in the right direction. Thus, a strong, united EU is much better for the world. A weak EU, on the other hand, will only profit those who are looking to unsettle the current order. They want to re-fashion the world to their benefit and don’t give a hoot about the future.

Thus, if there is another Brexit referendum the British public will do well to consider these factors. Overall, the British Parliament knows Brexit is problematic. It is the British public that needs to get up to speed.

The Untouchable Girl Became a Sanskrit Scholar

I’m convinced India is a land of a million epics. In nondescript towns and dilapidated villages, glow stories of the human spirit that dwarf landscape and geography. Election time brings travel to far flung corners to take stock, for the citizen, the state of Indian democracy.

Every election also brings an opportunity to meet a range of people many of whose life stories lift one’s own existence and fill the world, for a few fleeting moments perhaps, with awe and wonder. Meeting Dr Kumudini Sonkuwar Pawde in Nagpur a few years back was such an experience for me.

As I walked into her home in Nagpur, filled with artifacts of B.R Ambedkar and the freedom struggle, I almost overlooked the frail yet bright-eyed lady with neat pulled back silver hair, in a crisp cotton sari sitting upright on a wooden chair. I was here to meet and interview her son, Dr Amitabh Pawde a civil engineer and farmer, to understand the complexities of farmers issues in the Vidarbha region. As I took my seat, her voice, clear and unfaltering, rang out to ask if I was married into a Maharashtrian family she knew with links to Amravati? Yes, I am, but don’t really know much about them, I replied, anxious to get on with my interview about the farm crisis. As Dr Pawde talked, Dr Kumud listened and sometimes laughed, until as an aside, her son said, by the way, have you heard my mother’s story?

Had I heard her story? Did I know that a little girl born in 1938 to a dirt poor Mahar Dalit family in Nagpur had become a pandit of high Sanskrit? My pen froze mid sentence. Which little girl? Me of course, Dr Kumud laughed.

And what a magnificent epic story I heard! A life of unimaginable pain, tremendous achievement, great love and soaring good humour. She was always a clever girl. Her parents, fired up with the indomitable courage that BR Ambedkar pumped into the Dalit community, sent her to school knowing she would excel. “I went through all manner of struggles throughout,” Dr Kumud recalled, “par mujhe rone se nafrat hai. ( I hate crying). Mujhe roz maarte the, main roz maar khaati thi, (my classmates and teachers used to beat me up every day) but I never cried. I just kept going back to class.”

They humiliated her when she tried to drink water. They refused to let her participate in haldi kumkum ceremonies. But she just wouldn’t leave school, she attended class every day. She didn’t miss a day of school.

Her brilliance was quickly evident, she became a topper and began to excel in Sanskrit by the time she began college. At that time an idealistic young teacher, Motiram Pawde then running nightschools for underprivileged children at the Hislop College in Nagpur, was looking for young teachers like himself to teach poor children. Someone suggested the name of Kumud Sonkuwar and he asked her to join him.  Motiram and Kumud met, fell in love and married in the face of violent opposition from their families—after all she was a Dalit woman and he was upper caste—but Motiram, himself a freedom fighter and Ambedkarite valiantly faced down his family’s opposition.

Ah, what fires had been lit at that time by the brilliant Bhim Rao; Babasaheb the thinker who wrote a civilizational challenge into existence! The spirit of change, the annihilation of caste, the battle for social democracy, the powerful intellectual attack on brahmanwad: the young in Maharashtra were aflame with idealism and revolution and Kumud and Motiram plunged in. “My husband helped me every step of the way,” she recalls. “When I wasn’t allowed to draw water from wells for fear they would become polluted, he would join the queue with women to get our water,” she giggles.

She was a degree holder in Sanskrit but so far had not been able to get a job. In interviews, university authorities would tell her, “but if we hire you, we won’t get pupils.” After she was married and gained a non-Dalit surname, significantly more opportunities opened up and she went from strength to strength, gaining a formidable reputation as a teacher.

She was declared a Sanskrit pandita by the Nagpur mahavidyalala, finally retiring after decades of teaching as head of department of Sanskrit from Government College, Amravati.  Recalls her daughter in law Sanjivani: “ I still meet people who say, do remember me to your mother in law, I was her student and we used to love her class.”

She became a member of the all India progressive Womens movement, the national federation for Dalit women and kept campaigning for “antarjatiya” marriage (inter-caste marriage), managing to facilitate over 300 such unions. “Those who play politics in the name of the vedas and the Upanishads have no idea of the texts. In fact the idea is to keep people ignorant, so they don’t know what the texts actually reveal, how liberating they are.”

There she sits: a Dalit woman who ventured into school and university where so many would have quailed, who rode intrepidly into the brahmanical domain of the Sanskrit language, insisting that she had the right to learn. The farm labourer’s daughter who became a Sanskrit pandita.

It’s not often that cynical journalists like me find ourselves transported into the realm of the extraordinary. But somehow the  upright woman with the neat silver hair, so unassuming yet so dignified, so outwardly modest yet with that heroic life story behind her, a story told with a soft laugh and self-effacing wisdom, she seemed to me like a giant towering over every day reality.  “There’s only one time that I’ve seen my mother cry,” said her son, “and that’s when my father passed.”

Where does Dr Kumud find her strength? “Ambedkar’s message to me, was liberty, freedom, intellectual freedom and social freedom,” she says.

Kumud Pawde of Nagpur, scholar of Sanskrit and soldier of liberty. Elections may come and go, but secret hidden devis of learning and goodness still exist all over India, they sit in unvisited, unknown shrines, and quietly transform many lives. They are indestructible.

North Africa -An Impending Danger to Europe

North Africa is smoldering. An eruption anywhere in this region could set off a chain reaction igniting a landmass larger than the United States. A stream of migrants from one conflict zone could destabilize the next country over. The collapse of a government could give terrorists free rein to set up bases and carry on the fight in surrounding countries.

Sitting on top of this time bomb is Europe. The migrant crisis stemming from the Syrian civil war is already weakening the European Union toward a breaking point. If North Africa erupts, the EU’s fuel supplies, trade routes and society itself will be threatened.

An explosion in North Africa could affect Europe and, therefore, the entire world.

Civil War in Libya

Libya has been in chaos since 2011. But that chaos has been far less destructive than it could have been. Last year, around 1,500 people were killed in the fighting. That’s tragic, but it’s dwarfed by the 20,000 people killed in Syria and over 28,000 in Yemen over the same time.

Until last week, the Libyan government was locked in a stalemate. The Government of National Accord (GNA) controls the capital Tripoli and is backed by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. But the Libyan National Army (lNA), under Gen. Khalifa Haftar, controls most of the rest of the country and is backed by Russia, with support from Italy and (unofficially) France.

Meanwhile, terrorists—including the Islamic State—are exploiting this divided government and other weaknesses where they can and seizing pockets of territory.

But last Thursday, Haftar marched on Tripoli. This threatens to unleash fighting on a whole new scale. The U.S. has withdrawn the small number of marines it had posted in Tripoli, and as I write this, Haftar’s forces have just acknowledged launching an air strike on Tripoli’s only working airport. But GNA forces are putting up strong resistance. “The conflict in Libya has entered a new phase,” Stratfor warned.

“With their forward progress halted, it’s unlikely that Haftar’s forces will be able to take full control of the capital any time soon, leading to a high probability that the battle will become a protracted affair,” Stratfor wrote. “[W]ith Haftar’s forces stretched thin, rival militias and terrorist groups in the territory the lna already had seized, such as in Benghazi, will have the opportunity to regain a foothold.”

“The chaos emerging from another full-scale conflict could allow the Islamic State to restrengthen as political crises continue in Algeria and Sudan,” Stratfor wrote. Which brings us to Libya’s western neighbors.

Successes Turn to Failure

In Algeria, protests against the government continue, despite President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation. As I wrote last week, the demonstrators don’t just want a new figurehead; they want a new regime and system of government.

And the stirrings of unrest are spreading to Tunisia. Thus far, Tunisia has been the Arab Spring’s only success story. Under President Beji Caid Essebsi, the Tunisians barely kept the Islamists out. But the country’s economy has struggled, needing a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, and all the restrictions on spending that go with it.

Over the weekend, Essebsi announced that he would not stand for a second term, meaning his presidency will end in the autumn. His announcement came as movements on social media began to call for his ouster, inspired by the events in neighboring Algeria. There are no high-profile replacements for Essebsi on the horizon, and his party has asked him to stay.

Tunisia’s number two party is Ennahda, an Islamic party inspired by the Iranian Revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2016, it declared itself a part of “Muslim democrats.” How the party would behave if it has the chance to take power remains to be seen. The results of the Arab Spring in just about every other country show there’s plenty of scope for radical Islam in Tunisia.

War Criminal Under Siege

Southeast of Libya, another regime is under siege. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been fending off demonstrations since the end of 2018. But now they’re more threatening than ever before in his 30 years of rule.

Conflicting reports have been coming out of Sudan, but it appears that on Saturday, activists marched on the compound containing the Defense Ministry and presidential palace. They were trying to turn the army against Bashir. It’s unclear if they were successful. Reuters reported today:

On Monday, riot police and intelligence service personnel charged the demonstrators with pickup trucks while firing tear gas, but witnesses and activists said soldiers moved to protect the protesters.

The Times of London is reporting that security forces have split, with some defending the protesters and other supporting the president. The protests continue, with the following picture spreading widely on social media:

The United Kingdom, U.S. and Norway have called on Bashir to step down—for good reason, he is a horrible individual. He is the only sitting head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

At the same time, the consequences of a collapse in Sudan would be severe: dramatically increased refugee numbers and a perfect base for terrorists to attack targets in North and West Africa. This is why the EU works with and even pays this wanted war criminal. As the Economist pointed out, if Bashir goes, the wave of unrest could simply grow stronger:

Events in Sudan will be watched nervously by Mr. Bashir’s fellow Arab leaders, who fear a second phase of the Arab Spring that swept away several of them in 2011. Protesters in Algeria have recently forced the resignation of their ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Who might be next?

A Pattern of Instability

These are just the flare-ups that have occurred in the last few days. There are other major risks of a conflagration. In Mali, nearly 90,000 have been forced to flee since January as tribal militia and armed groups continue to clash in the country’s northern and central regions. On March 23, more than 150 Fulani villages were attacked, probably by the rival Dogon tribe.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency said today that it is worried about the spike in attacks in southeast Niger, warning, “The beginning of the year has brought a resurgence of violent attacks by Boko Haram, targeting security and defense forces as well as the civilian population in the region of Diffa, near the Nigerian border.”

All these areas have tension and major problems that aren’t going away quickly. Having several hot spots all smoldering at the same time means the risk of an explosion is especially high. But even if things settle down, the big problems remain. This region is on the brink of an explosion. 

Part of that coming storm is forming in North Africa. Germany is a major contributor to the EU’s military mission in Mali. German generals have talked openly about the need for Germany to prepare to project force into Libya. Chairman of the German Federal Armed Forces Association Lt. Col. André Wüstner said that radical Islam has created a “ring of fire” that extends “from Afghanistan via Yemen, Syria and Iraq to Africa” and that Germany must be prepared to confront it. In other words, Germany needs to surround these outbreaks of radical Islam.

Europe is being drawn into North Africa, just as the Bible said it would. It has little choice. Unless it wants to let millions of migrants destabilize its political system and its society, it has to be involved in the region just across the Mediterranean Sea.

Perhaps the biggest danger to Europe comes from Egypt. It has a population larger than Algeria, Sudan and Libya combined. It is one of the leading nations in the volatile region. Egypt has already proved vulnerable to radical Islamists. If Egypt allies with Iran, it will rock Europe’s world.

We need to understand the enormous impact that Egypt working with Iran will have in the Middle East and even globally. This Iran-Egypt axis is going to change the game in the Middle East—particularly in Libya and Ethiopia.

Put simply, this means that we can expect Egypt—with Iran’s help—to lead Libya and Ethiopia into the Iranian camp!

The region is volatile and unstable, and Egypt will probably perform the coup de grâce that brings these countries around to Iran. But until then, the instability could mean some major headaches for Europe.

The rise of Iran is clear. The migrant crisis is helping to foment major political change in Europe. Part of the reason France is so keen to empower Germany is because it needs Germany’s military to help it in North Africa.

Leonardo da Vinci-A Continuous Fascination for the Modern World

Old masters rarely come more venerable (and venerated) and instantly recognisable than Leonardo da Vinci. But to think of Leonardo as an Old Master – with all its connotations of being staid, traditional, somehow old-fashioned and boring – is to do this extraordinary man a grave injustice. There is nothing stale or predictable about a man whose personal foibles irritated and frustrated contemporaries as much as his brilliance and creativity dazzled and awed them. One thing is for sure: whatever Leonardo was, old and boring he was not.

May 2 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death in Amboise in France, and this milestone is celebrated in flurry of activity including – in the UK – a brilliant and imaginative series of 12 simultaneous exhibitions around the country, each comprising 12 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci drawn from the Royal Collection at Windsor.

Drawing provides an insight into how this pioneer, who defied all expectations, saw the world around him – so there is no more fitting celebration of his life than putting 144 of Leonardos’s images on display.

It would be fun to engage in a bit of Leonardo exhibition tourism as each of the 12 exhibitions focuses on a specific theme.

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, for example, houses the drawings relating to animals and their movements including the truly beguiling Cats, lions and a dragon (ca 1513-18) which should finally put any suggestions to rest about Leonardo’s status as a staid old master.

Leonardo is watching a cat grooming – but eventually, what he records is no longer a cat but the most enchanting little dragon whose sinous curves mirror those of the cats on the same sheet of paper. Leonardo’s mind never stood still and it is through his drawings that you can see the mind of an artist at work who could paint the majestic Last Supper and derive as much fun from doodling cats.

Workshop apprentice

Leonardo’s beginnings as an artist followed the traditional route of indenture in an established master’s workshop, in this case, the studio of Andrea del Verrochio, a very successful artist in the orbit of the Medici family who was as accomplished a business man as he was an artist.

The Renaissance workshop fostered a multitude of talents – at any one time a workshop might be executing bespoke images for a wealthy patron while at the same time collaborating with another workshop on large-scale fresco decorations or structural work or designing and producing ephemeral, gilded papier-mâché decorations for a banquet. Artists were expected to be able to produce exquisite designs for jewellery, clothing and animal livery for the well-heeled merchants of Renaissance Florence. Meanwhile they would also churn out the popular birth trays presented to mothers in celebration of the delivery of a child and panel paintings for a cheaper market, copy heraldic designs and sketch maps.

Renaissance workshops thrived because of the variety of skills brought together under one roof by a master such as Verrochio – the team was stronger than the sum of its individual parts, and it sustained itself through its apprentices. Leonardo though stood out as a master of all trades, as the artist who excelled not at one art but all of them.

Court artist

Leonardo was quite aware of his extraordinary talents and value to patrons and spelled this out in a letter seeking employment at one of Europe’s most lavishly spending Court, that of Ludovico il Moro Sforza, Duke of Milan.

He speaks of expertise in the design and construction of effectively field artillery and bailey bridges; outlines his skills in sapping walls and landscaping; his expertise as an architect and sculptor and also promises that he can do “in painting whatever may be done as well as any other, be he who he may”.

The Duke of Milan duly appointed Leonardo to his court and it was at Sforza’s court that Leonardo, at the age of almost 30, was to spend the next two decades painting his best-known works (the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, The Madonna of the Rocks, the enchanting Lady with the Ermine). All the while he was working towards the one commission closest to his patron’s heart – the casting of a life-sized equestrian statue celebrating Sforza’s father.

Leonardo as an artist did not measure himself against his contemporaries alone, but his true competition were the great masters of classical antiquity. And the only way in which he could achieve lasting fame through his work, was to ensure that his works – especially the Sforza monument – became exemplars. These were intended as unsurpassable demonstrations of his skills and knowledge.

The greatest legacy Leonardo left from his Milanese years are his notebooks and drawings (including some of the ones now on show), and one of the reasons behind these drawings was his quest to master everything he might need in order to best execute that monument.

He needed to understand the anatomy of the animal and its rider – his notebooks show the most extraordinary studies of human and animal anatomy, movement and expression, with Leonardo returning again and again to the same motif, endlessly working on minute variations.

In order to cast the great monument, he would need to understand the behaviour of metals, fire and minerals – as well as the mechanical processes of casting and hoisting the monument. So he studied machines, drew existing ones, improved on old designs and invented new ones. Leonardo wanted to know about the minutiae of textures but also needed to understand a landscape holistically.

The notebooks are encyclopaedic in their topics, and breathtaking in their intricacy and beauty. It is the ceaselessness of his drawing that provides the key to understanding the timeless appeal of this greatest of artists.

Leonardo died 500 years ago at Amboise, at the Court of Francis I, where he retired after working for some of the greatest patrons of the early 16th century. He travelled with Cesare Borgia’s army and drew some very early bird’s-eye-view maps.

He stayed at the Papal Court of Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici) experimenting with mechanical clockwork devices and increasingly focused on his study of meteorological phenomena such as clouds and deluges, yet the one constant was drawing.

So enjoy the drawings that have come down through 500 years of art history and appreciate that you are looking inside the mind of the greatest “Renaissance Man” of them all.

India moves on

Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by—W B Yeats

It shall take a certain healing time for the wounds to rest, but the government, swiftly passed on the responsibility to NIA, Army, Diplomacy, to tackle the situation with powers to proceed with full freedom. They shall work out what is the best deal.

Without wasting much time, came the International Business Summit, where the top brass of the ministries involved, and captains of Indian industry, put their heads together, for the next step in buoyancy to the economy, attached to the present principles of globalization that come with some riders, and a second look at safety measures on big data protection.

Economy, riddled with so many wars, inadequate infrastructure, should be the mother of all our efforts. It brings the nation together, establishes its indispensability in various sectors, and guards your borders, even as it nourishes our brave soldiers, and their families.

Such a switch over to the crux of Indian economy, global adjustments in trade, to heed and gear up for what the world expects of us in adding to the global economic scene, when the heart is in pain, is a special gift to the Indian mind due to what we are realizing, is our ancient culture.

I am reminded of a scene form Attenborough’s “Gandhi”, when on account of the “Civil Dis-obedience Movement, further fanned by the “salt tax”, Nehru, Maulana, Patel drive into the Mahatma’s Sabarmati Ashram in a frenzy. Riots were on at every street. With all that had to be reported, the Mahatma, tells Nehru to pay heed to a new herbal leaf that cures wounds in goats. No need to mention that all felt instantly dis-illusioned, but the wise bar-at-law (the first praise to his intellect comes at the beginning of the movie from a quote from Einstein), knew it all. He was already structuring a counter strategy.

Next scene—the “Dandi March”!

The martial scene has been since inception, except that globally abhorred “terrorism” that devastates mindlessly, has stepped in.

Taking leave from what I mentioned above, in line with economic strides, I am happy that the beginning of the national health plan “Ayush”, that promises Rs 5 lacs for medical treatment to 50Cr people, gets a second push.

It is well accepted that no Health Plan, even in countries that invest the most in research, hold the most patents in pharma and medical gadgetry, are amongst the top economies, is even reasonably adequate, from their own expectations, social, political, human.

To put it bluntly, healthcare funding is a bottom-less pit, human inconsistencies in rolling and sustaining such a system, not being excluded. Once initiated, government funding, insurance funding, government partnered private insurance should be aware of this.

The good news however is, that there is a flurry in growth of medical setups, small, medium, and tertiary. Investigation facilities, home delivery of medications (to the extent of disadvantage to the retailer, even loss of employment), are available, though need more regulation.

The funding and administrative changes made to the government sector, certainly shows. Some years back, highly trained doctors, would sit for hours in dingy cramped clinics, with no end to the meandering and restlessly quarrelling lines outside the clinic door. With salute to my much- learned colleagues, they need more back-up.

The crux of all healthcare (managing costs is another subject), includes three cardinal principles. 1) A proper diagnosis, 2) An expert who can navigate through all twists and turns of the disease 3) Effective therapy, that is adhered till the last word.

The healthcare ministry shall have to keep such monitoring centres, on the journey back home. More often than not, inputs lacking here, cause catastrophy, of what were miraculous medical life -saving efforts.

Although, thanks to private visionaries, and government help, Indian health costs would be 15% of that in western set-ups, —infrastructure, and manpower skills comparable, it is still beyond the reach of many. This is also the lower income strata that is prone to excessive tobacco, un licenced liquor, and therefore equally prone to diseases as cancer, resistant infection, hypertension, cardiac disease.

I believe, the first use of Aayush funding may go to such patients. It requires inputs from those who have been in public health therapeutics at professional levels, that may lend cues to proper use of allotment of funds.

Taking the positive side in a state of a gloomy hang-over, Indian pharma, is effective and affordable. We just need to have the machines as approved by FDA, quality as acceptable to the West, Africa, so that Indian pharma can balance its earnings, and subsidize for domestic use.

Costs shall be contained if we have more set-ups for manufacturing Active Pharma Ingredients, sufficient for domestic use as well as use for other nations. Alliances with Teva, have helped open some Indian pharma majors to western markets. We need to strengthen such alliances, that are mutual, at the same time are for reducing the burden of disease!

International partnerships, and the spirit of “Make in India” applies to ventilators, dialysis machines, monitors, with key manufacturers abroad. If we are finding it beneficial to become some sort of an automotive hub, a medical gadgetry hub, gets priority under the Indian Healthcare System.

No intention of sermonize, but finally, the health system should be ready for these “issues”, actually one billion of them, and increasing. It is nothing beyond simple practical sense. China did it decades ago. We are democracy. We need to find amicable ways.

Recreation and creation, need a meaningful filter, to keep the ratios viable for posterity

Feardom at midnight: how Pakistan & North Korea love the bomb

Another fleeting but fearful prospect of nuclear conflagration has just about passed. It is likely the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ ill-famed Doomday Clock, which hypothetically represents imminence of a global catastrophe in a “minutes to midnight” measure, will soon be reset. It is currently at two minutes to twelve.

It is the second time after 1953 the clock has gotten so close to apocalyptic midnight since it began its ticking at seven minutes to Armageddon in 1947. The partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and the division of Korea in 1948 were not significant factors in its original setting. The clock was farthest away from midnight (by 17 minutes) in 1991 soon after the Cold War before resuming its steady progress to annihilation hour.

Now Pakistan and North Korea, two misbegotten accidents of history, might push it even closer to midnight because of hair-trigger nuclear posture arising from their existential crises. There is a certain careless way the two countries speak about use of nuclear weapons, borne out of a use it-or-lose it desperation. This in turn has prompted other countries, notably U.S and India, to consider neutralize-it or vaporize-it options. It is all very terrifying, particularly with giddy bhakts and kambhakts in all these countries making light of the heaviest weapons known to humankind. They believe they can live with bouncing rubble that will take up back to the Ice Age.

Nonchalance about nuclear war goes back to the start of the Cold War when a certain American general is said to have joked that at the end of the war, “if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!” Such a cavalier outlook was probably what had prompted French Statesman Georges Clemenceau to observe that war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men. Even retired veterans have more sober attitude. President Eisenhower warned there “aren’t enough bulldozers to scrap the bodies off the street in the case of a nuclear war.” A famous Cold War poster listing steps to take in case of a nuclear attack concluded with the sage advice to finally put one’s head between one’s legs and “kiss your ass goodbye.” Amen to that.

Scientists, particularly those instrumental in developing the weapons, were even more leery. Albert Einstein, who regretted the letter he wrote to Franklin Roosevelt recommending the making of the atom bomb, said he did not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, “but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” So awed was J.Robert Oppenheimer at the sight of the first nuclear explosion that words from the Bhagavad Gita ran through his mind: Now I am become death, the destroyer of the world.

Now we again have a reminder in 2019 that it is time to destroy nuclear weapons, taking our cue from the Book of Isaiah to turn swords into plowshares. Talk has shifted lately to universal health care and universal basic income. We also need to return to universal nuclear disarmament.

Nationalism vs patriotism: Nationalism’s cynical misuse, conflating dissent with sedition, devalues our everyday patriotism

Is there a difference between patriotism and nationalism? At one level, most people would think they are synonyms. But closer observation reveals there is a vital difference between the two. According to the dictionary meaning patriotism is, quite simply, love for one’s country. Nationalism, on the contrary, is its visible demonstration.

The two can interface in harmony. Or they can be posited against each other, whereby patriotism is considered somewhat inferior unless it manifests itself in its hyper version of overt nationalism.

This debate acquires resonance in the context of the recent air strike on the terrorist base at Balakot, and the public address to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on India joining the elite club of four nations – the US, Russia and China being the other three – who have the capacity to launch a missile against a satellite.

Both events are a source of legitimate pride. Balakot signifies a paradigm shift in our resolve to retaliate against Pakistan for its proxy terrorist war against us. The A-Sat is a demonstration of our will to upgrade our defence preparedness to a new frontier of space capability.

Should both these events evoke a sense of patriotism, or must they provoke nationalistic fervour? Patriotism includes a sense of pride, but does not require that proof be given for it. Normally, it can be restricted to the respect reserved for symbols like the national flag or the national anthem. Nationalism, on the contrary, often demands aggressive expression, public articulation and the assertion of superiority, going beyond the rites due to national symbols. Patriotism is fulsome but not necessarily demonstrative; nationalism is exuberant and overt.

Is there, in this difference, a danger that nationalism can be misused by those who wish to benefit from its exuberance? Hyper nationalism can be artificially simulated, whipped up to serve an ulterior purpose. In the hands of politicians it can be a lethal weapon. BS Yeddyurappa, former BJP chief minister of Karnataka, made a statement that post-Balakot, the ‘nationalist’ wave would help his party sweep the elections.

BJP organised political events where the photographs of CRPF jawans killed in Pulwama were deliberately made a backdrop. Posters and hoardings mushroomed displaying the armed forces, and even containing pictures of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, a serving air force officer.

Politicising the armed forces is highly condemnable. National security is a bipartisan priority. The armed forces are mandated to be apolitical. Their valour and sacrifice is not the monopoly of any one party. To make them an accessory to party politics may help to stoke nationalism, but is an unpatriotic act.

For the government to take due credit for taking decisive action is legitimate; to coopt in this process the armed forces is not. It is good that the hoardings displaying the armed forces were taken down on the explicit directive of the Election Commission (EC). The EC has also set up a committee to examine whether the PM’s announcement of A-Sat constitutes a violation of the Model Code of Conduct for forthcoming parliamentary elections.

While patriotism is a continuum, ultra-nationalism requires an event, an external stimulus, to periodically invoke it. There is also the danger that if unchecked, this heightened nationalism can degenerate to jingoism or xenophobia. The last two are irrational mindsets. It is very difficult to counter them with logic, because the very attempt to be logical rather than emotional is perceived as an act of betrayal.

This forecloses the possibility to question or interrogate for that is seen as anti-national. Jingoism works to subsume other priorities that need attention, and compresses all national debate to a single issue.

In such situations, ordinary citizens are faced with an existential, even painful, dilemma. If they do not join the orchestrated chorus of nationalistic hysteria, their patriotism is considered inferior. If they do join the chorus, they have to stop behaving in the normal way of being patriotic.

This is so because patriotism is by definition inclusive, while hyper-nationalism thrives on exclusion, the conjuring of the ‘other’, against which the anger and animosity of the converted has to be directed. If patriotism is about sharing a sentiment, nationalism seeks to appropriate that sentiment. The citizen is forced to make a choice in this simulated tug of war.

In a mature democracy, patriotism is an embellishment. It ennobles the project of nationhood. Nationalism, if unchecked or deliberately hyped, coarsens the democratic discourse. Its cynical misuse devalues patriotism, conflates dissent with sedition, seeks to deflect attention from legitimate critique, sanctions mob violence, and encourages hatred.

Will ordinary citizens make the right choice between patriotism and nationalism in the national elections? People vote on a range of issues that affect the quality of their lives. No election is uni-dimensional. Our country is a subcontinent. The factors exercising the mind of the voter are many, including local concerns, quality of candidates, ethics in public life, regional aspirations, performance of the economy, jobs, business opportunities, rural well-being, and, yes, national security.

All of these are compatible with patriotism. But to brush everything under one carpet of contrived nationalism will be an insult to the voter, and hence unpatriotic.