AI revolution depends on the future of computing

When it comes to technology trends, AI has been undeniably leading the way in recent years and is expected to continue to do so for decades to come. From self-driving cars to predictive medicine and personalized learning, AI is increasingly shaping both practical and intimate aspects of our everyday lives, including matching us to our better halves. When talking about AI, we often are interested in the application use cases: what is AI going to enable next? In the race towards building powerful AI systems and applications, the public, including tech-domain experts, often dismisses the close interconnection between AI and computing. However, the AI revolution that we are witnessing could not have happened without the evolution of the computing hardware and of the computing ecosystem.

The relationship between AI and computing

AI, in a nutshell, aims at allowing computers to mimic human intelligence. One way to do so is machine learning (ML), consisting of a set of statistical techniques that allow machines to learn from data, instead of being explicitly programmed to perform certain tasks. The most famous ML techniques include regression models, decision trees and neural networks, consisting of adaptive systems of interconnected nodes modeling relationship patterns between input and output data. Multilayered neural networks are particularly relevant for performing complex tasks such as image recognition and text synthesis. These form a subset of machine learning referred to as deep learning (DL), due to the depth of the underlying neural networks. ML techniques in general, and DL techniques in particular, are data- and computing-heavy. A basic deep neural network classifying animal pictures into dogs and cats needs hundreds of thousands of classified animal pictures in training data and billions of iterative computations in order to mimic a four year’s old ability to discern cats from dogs. Data and computing represent in this sense the pillars for building high-performance AI systems.

• Moore’s law: Named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Moore’s law states that the number of transistors per square inch in an integrated circuit (IC) has doubled every 18 months to two years since the mid-1960s. Thanks to Moore’s law, computers have become smaller and faster at an exponential rate, reducing computing costs by ~30% per year, allowing the execution of complex mathematical operations on small ICs, and paving the way towards embedded and ubiquitous computing.

• The internet of things (IoT): With more than 40 billion (mini)-computers expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, the IoT is enabling the collection of exabytes of text, voice, image and other forms of training data, feeding into ML and DL models, and increasing the accuracy and precision of these models.

• The rise of application (and AI) specific computing hardware: A computer is composed of many processing units, each of which contains one or many cores or ICs. A CPU (central processing unit) represents the most standardized and general-purpose microprocessor that can be programmed and used for almost any purpose. Recent years have seen the emergence of new types of processing units including GPUs (graphics processing units) and TPUs (tensor processing units). A GPU or TPU ideally contains more cores than a CPU and also presents a different transistors topology at an integrated circuit (IC) level. Due to their specialized architecture, GPUs and TPUs are particularly suited for computing-intensive deep learning applications such as images processing and voice recognition, as well as unstructured text mining.

• The era of exascale computing: Along with data explosion, the evolution of the computing hardware and of the computing needs of applications such as AI and blockchain have driven computing giants such as HPE to start building super-computers. Placed in centralized data centers, super computers are capable of at least one exaFLOPS, or a billion billion (i.e. a quintillion) calculations per second. Such capacity represents a thousand-fold increase over the first petascale computer that came into operation in 2008. China and the EU are also investing millions in the race towards exascale computing.

Challenges of the computing status quo

Due to the high availability and declining costs of in-house and on-demand cloud computing, computing has rarely been considered as a scarce resource when it comes to enabling the AI revolution. However, computer systems are facing many limitations that can slow the development of AI applications built on top. The main challenges include:

• The end of Moore’s law: Due to physical limitations, transistors cannot go in size below a certain level, which is likely to invalid Moore’s law sooner than we expect and limit the ability to infinitely shrink microprocessors.

• Increasing data regulation: A speedy exascale processing of data in centralized super-computers requires the data to be stored close to the processors. The increasing appetite for data regulation worldwide, including the recent adoption of GDPR in Europe, is likely to make centralized data placement more difficult and to challenge the purpose of building super-computers in the first place.

• The costs (and feasibility) of data transfer and storage: Building on the last point, the high volume of training data and the bandwidth costs associated with data transfer closer to centralized processors invite a redesign of computer memory and of underlying I/O (input/output) operations, as well as significant investments in the network capacity. Running centralized supercomputers also comes with OPEX and environmental costs, particularly in terms of power consumption and generating CO2 emissions.

• Lack of a computing-supportive ecosystem: As more IT talent goes into tech giants or launches AI startups, the appetite for working for traditional computer manufacturers or for launching startups focused on developing new computing hardware is on the decline. Despite accelerating the prototyping of AI products, the emergence of high-level programming languages, APIs and libraries is contributing to a less nuanced understanding of computing architectures and basic computing operations, even among computer scientists.

The way forward

The regulatory constraints and the energy and bandwidth costs associated with centralized super-computing are likely to drive data storage and computing to the edge. Intel has already developed a USB stick that allows users to effectively carry out computer vision and image recognition on edge network devices; like smart cameras and augmented reality hardware.

The imminent end of Moore’s law is likely to drive the emergence of more specialized computing architectures, focused on changing the way processing units and individual circuits are structured, in order to achieve performance gains without further shrinking the size of transistors or processors.

On the other hand, a new form of computing, quantum computing, is progressively gaining more ground, although its practical implementation remains a challenge. Quantum computers rethink computing by leveraging the strange laws of quantum mechanics. Instead of using transistors designed around binary units that classical computers use, quantum computers employ “quantum bits” or “qubits”. Unlike bits, which are limited to being either 1 or 0 at all times, qubits can exist in “superposition”, this enables them to simulate multiple states at the same time. Another property of matter at quantum level, “entanglement”, means that multiple qubits can be connected through logic gates. The “superposition” and “entanglement” properties of quantum computing makes it possible to carry many operation streams in parallel both at the level of one “qbit” and many “qbits”, thus making a quantum computer more suited to tackle complex computational problems, when compared to a classical computer. This being said, physically building a “universal” quantum computer remains extremely difficult in engineering terms. Creating and maintaining qubits requires stable systems under extreme conditions – for example, maintaining component temperatures very close to absolute zero.

Encouraging more people to go into STEM and retaining tech talent will provide the computer manufacturing industry with the talent that it needs to disrupt itself and keep up with the needs of the AI revolution.

Finally, when building ML models and writing algorithms, data scientists, computer scientists, ML engineers and AI practitioners should consider the least complex way to solve the problem at hand. Going for a complex neural network when a regression could have provided a good accuracy or running data pipelines on a daily basis when a weekly data update could have been enough are real examples of how tech talent is wasting a scarce resource such as computing on a daily basis. Promoting computing-friendly practices within the tech ecosystem has become a necessity for the tech industry to sustain its own growth, namely on the AI front.

The Convoluted Political Scene

It’s good that India’s new foreign minister S Jaishankar embraces change & tries to read the world as is — not as it was or should be. Sticking to dogma can be dangerous, especially in these turbulent times. The US is changing the rules of engagement with friends and foes alike. China’s rise is no longer ‘peaceful’ as promised. Russia is maximising its clout, and Europe is struggling.

The existing world order is breaking down in front of our eyes. Few ‘set plays’ can be deployed in this minefield of competing interests, rising tensions, tariff wars and diminished international institutions. The new normal demands new responses.

India will position itself by optimising ties with all major players, said Jaishankar two weeks before being named external affairs minister. It means ‘cultivating America, steadying Russia, managing China, enthusing Japan and attending to Europe’ while increasing India’s footprint in the neighbourhood. “Every relationship will have to be leveraged.” “Playing safe” is passé because it can easily become an “opportunity-denial exercise”.

 Let that sink in, especially for the perennially risk-averse. What began as a trade dispute between the US and China has now morphed into a full spectrum strategic contest which is unlikely to abate any time soon. The one point the two sides agree upon is precisely that they are locked in a geopolitical contest and that its resolution will have to be the unquestioned dominance of one or the other. Neither accepts that multi-polarity is feasible in the sense that a cluster of major powers could construct a loosely structured but stable international order as a contemporary version of the European order set in place by Congress of Vienna in 1815.

The new hegemon, it is predicted, will be a rejuvenated US, which has seen off the Chinese challenge as it did the Soviet challenge in the Cold War. Or China will overtake the US and emerge as the undisputed hegemon in the current millennium. The resolution of the contest may take time so there will be a bi-polar world in the interim. Chinese analysts envision a process in which China will initially establish predominance in the Western Pacific pushing the US out towards the outer oceanic rim and then proceed to establish global pre-eminence. It is no coincidence that in its first ever Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (ISPR) released by the US on June 1, it is explicitly stated that China is a revisionist power which “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and ultimately global pre-eminence in the long term”.

If an extended period of inconclusive contestation between the two countries is likely, how will it be different from the US-Soviet stand-off after World War II? China and the US are more evenly matched in economic terms, with China almost certain to overtake US GDP in nominal terms by 2030. China is also catching up with the US in technological prowess, with massive investments in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and advanced electronics. Soviet GDP never exceeded 40 per cent of US GDP and its technological capabilities, though impressive, were no match to the US. Further, there were hardly any trade and investment relations between the two while China and the US are joined at the hip in a dense investment and trade relationship which will be difficult and painful to unwind for both.

China does not have allies and a string of bases across the globe like the US but the infrastructure being created through its Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) across the globe could be transformed into a security platform over time. Russia may move closer to an alliance with China and this could tip the balance in favour of the latter. Furthermore, the US-led alliance systems are under strain as a result of policies adopted by the current Trump Administration and its actions do not always align with the intent displayed in the IPSR.

Therefore, the progressive polarisation of US-China relations, interspersed with phases of remission, is likely to persist. There may be a stalemate overall at least over the next decade and beyond. Will this stalemate define the global order or will there still be spaces for other emerging powers like India to advance their interests?

While China and the US may find it in their interest to define the new world order as a binary contest between their competing visions and capabilities, the defining characteristic of the current international trend is the steady diffusion of political, economic and military power rather than its concentration in this or that country. China’s emergence is in itself the consequence of such diffusion inherent in the process of globalisation, which in turn is a creature of rapid technological advance.

Thomas Friedman’s flat world is a reality though he himself has doubts about it now. The limits of coercive power have been made sharply apparent in failed and costly wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. China too confronts countervailing winds whenever it steps beyond a threshold of assertion. Therefore, the shadow of the US-China confrontation will not fall across all other relationships with the rigid harshness of the previous Cold War.

India should be successful in resisting demands to choose one side of the fence or the other, because the fence itself will be rickety and shifting. Appropriate to the diffused geopolitical landscape is a policy which enables promotion of India’s interests through multiple circles of engagement. The old East-West, North-South divides have become progressively less and less relevant though they still influence our foreign policy perspective. We will have to actively seek partnerships which are more issue based and hold the promise of advancing India’s economic and security interests. In this sense, some partnerships will be more valued than others but need not be exclusive.

India’s relationship with the US will carry greater weight than relations with China which remains an adversarial power and is unwilling to change this equation. It would be natural for India to seek to compensate for its power asymmetry with China by strengthening its partnership with other countries which share its concern over the propensity of China to assert power unilaterally. China is not looking at India to be its ally. It is enough that India does not become an ally of its adversary. That should suit India.

In our contemporary world, most of the challenges we face are cross-cutting in nature and global in dimension. They cannot be solved through national efforts alone. Nations cannot be coerced into joining international responses directed by major powers. It is only through collaborative platforms based on consent and multilateral processes which respect the principle of equity that solutions are likely to be found to the looming threats of climate change, global health pandemics, the unregulated development of cyber, bio-tech and space capabilities and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Coercion will remain indispensable but not sufficient to enhance a country’s influence. Leadership in mobilising international responses to such challenges may be more important.

As India grapples with a changing world, it would be wise to retain the internationalist spirit which marked its foreign policy in the early years after Independence.

As foreign secretary, Jaishankar saw US President Donald Trump’s ‘disruptive’ policies as an opportunity to increase India’s options. As foreign minister, he faces a Trump-sized disruption on trade issues. Things are getting tetchy by the day. His ingenuity and savvy will be tested.

The first high-level US visitor in Modi 2.0 will be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this month. Both sides will give each other a sense of what’s on their mind as they prepare for the India-US-Japan trilateral on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, when Modi will meet Trump for the first time since his election victory.

Officials will try to contain the interaction within predictable parameters. But with Trump, that’s a limited exercise. Pompeo and Jaishankar are likely to engage in a free-flowing discussion on the regional situation — Pakistan, Afghanistan and, of course, China. Pompeo is expected to make a case against India going to China for 5G technology. Both sides are acutely aware that unresolved trade issues should not be allowed to rock the larger India-US relationship. It would help if the easy issues were resolved first to put some goodwill in the bank, which stands depleted, and go on to tackle bigger ones. Why should airlines’ ground handling be allowed to become a dispute? It frazzles the mind.

It’s good to keep in mind that India is not being uniquely targeted because Trump has pushed all US friends and allies to demand ‘reciprocal’ relationships. Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Mexico are all under pressure and their flagship industries affected. They are negotiating despite extraordinary ‘Trumpian’ demands. Last week, he threatened to raise tariffs on all Mexican imports unless Mexico curbed the surge in migration on the border. An agreement reached in the nick of time.

India will have to be imaginative on trade disputes — give some, take some and absorb some. The Trump administration is reportedly getting ready to launch a full-blown ‘investigation’ into India’s trade practices under Section 301of the US Trade Act.

The issue of Iran oil sanctions is over. India has stopped its imports from Iran and increased imports from the US. Incidentally, China’s State-owned oil companies have done the same, despite all the sabre-rattling from Beijing. Any attempt to set up a separate payment line and continue imports could invite sanctions on the Indian entity and could jeopardise the waiver for Chabahar Port in Iran. This is a sanctions-happy administration.

But make noise India must, not just to get satisfaction but because there’s alimit to becoming collateral damage in US policy obsessions. It makes hedging appear much more attractive and undermines relations. The challenge of India potentially coming under Russia sanctions because of the S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft air defence system is far more complex and could see areal confrontation between Washington and New Delhi down the line.

But shouldn’t the US be equally worried about the fallout of any precipitous action under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Caatsa)? Will it punish India, a ‘major defence partner’, and be prepared to drive a hole into its own Indo-Pacific strategy?

Any sanctions will impact US arms sales and, consequently, the diversification towards which New Delhi has been moving. That will help Russia instead of punishing it. Trump’s former defence secretary, Jim Mattis, had warned of such a scenario. But Trump listens mostly to himself. From all accounts, the new ‘adults’ in the room are less prone to trying to change his mind on issues than their predecessors.

South Asian Terms of Engagement

The context of India-Pakistan relationship has changed significantly. Any framework for dialogue must reflect the new situation. Pakistan premier Imran Khan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealing for a resumption of the dialogue that has stalled for some years now.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice”, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus had said back in the 6th century BC. He explained by adding, “for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. The thought from Heraclitus might help explain why India is unwilling to get back to the kind of dialogue it pursued with Pakistan in the recent past.

Pakistan premier Imran Khan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealing for a resumption of the dialogue that has stalled for some years now. Khan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has urged the same in a separate letter to his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The Indian response, if any, is not in the public domain. One thing, though, is quite certain. If and when India agrees to resume the dialogue with Pakistan, it is unlikely to be the one that Pakistan wants to resume.

For the context of the relationship between India and Pakistan has changed since the early 1990s, when the current series of talks began. Further, it is not the same India that Pakistan dealt with a quarter century ago. Even more important, PM Modi is very different from his recent predecessors — Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Inder Kumar Gujral and P V Narasimha Rao.

Returning to Heraclitus for a moment, the peace process between India and Pakistan is not the same river and the prime minister of India is not the same man. The old peace process was dead when PM Modi’s visit to Lahore on short notice on the Christmas day of 2015 was followed by an attack on Pathankot when the new year dawned a week later. What was this framework and why is it so difficult to redeem now?

The peace process had its origins in a time when the balance in the Subcontinent tilted in favour of Pakistan. By the turn of the 1990s, Pakistan was triumphalist and India was down in the dumps. Pakistan had acquired nuclear weapons by the late 1980s. That seemed to neutralise India’s conventional military superiority over Pakistan and established “nuclear parity” between the two subcontinental siblings. Beyond the nuclear, Pakistan was on high having just humbled a superpower — the Soviet Union. Moscow was compelled to withdraw from Afghanistan after a decade of occupation. Pakistan’s use of jihadi violence played no mean part in the strategic humiliation of Russia. To its west, Pakistan was eager to extend its sway into Afghanistan and beyond. In the east, it was time to take revenge for India’s vivisection of Pakistan in 1971.

If Pakistan was riding high, India seemed to be plumbing new depths. Its economy had collapsed and Delhi went into the IMF’s receivership. Political stability was dead with the demise of the so-called Congress system. The weak coalition governments in Delhi that followed had struggled to produce consensus on difficult policy choices. Meanwhile, the deepening faultlines of caste and religion seemed poised to tear Indian society apart. And its frontier regions — Punjab, Kashmir and the Northeast were all on the boil. Externally, India’s lone ally, the Soviet Union broke up into pieces and Delhi had to recalibrate its foreign relations.

Pakistan could easily be forgiven if it had thought India was now a pushover. It turned the Afghan jihadi experience to Kashmir where Delhi had made matters difficult for itself. The strategic impunity created by the nuclear weapons seemed to embolden the Pakistan army. Its immediate objective was to force a reluctant India to open up talks on the Kashmir question. It had two new instruments. One was the leverage over the militant groups in the Kashmir Valley and the creation of a sanctuary for anti-India terror groups. The other was the renewed international interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute. Washington convinced itself that Kashmir was the world’s most dangerous nuclear flashpoint. The pressure from Pakistan to reopen the Kashmir question was matched by that from the international community to start talking Kashmir.

India, willy nilly, agreed to put Kashmir back on the table by the end of the late 1990s. But it was only by 2004 — after a series of military crises rocked the bilateral relationship that there was an agreed methodology for a comprehensive negotiation with Pakistan. The three-fold framework involved a commitment from India to negotiate seriously on Kashmir, Pakistan’s promise to create a violence-free environment, and a joint pursuit of confidence building measures.

Outlined in January 2004 in Vajpayee’s talks with Pervez Mushrarraf, the process gained momentum in Manmohan Singh’s first term. The two sides expanded a range of CBMs, came close to solving some difficult issues like the dispute over Siachen glacier, and negotiated a broad understanding on Kashmir. But the process collapsed for a variety of reasons; there was plenty of blame to go around. From the Indian perspective, though, the main problem was the persistent cross-border terror backed by the Pakistan army.

After his initial outreach to Pakistan failed, Modi sought to break the frustrating talks-terror-talks cycle with Pakistan. The new approach had a number of elements. First, discard the pretence that the Hurriyat in Kashmir had a role in the talks with Pakistan; two, refuse to talk to Pakistan until it shows real progress on limiting cross-border terror; three, challenge Pakistan’s nuclear impunity through military escalation on the Line of Control, cross-border attacks and the use of air power after the Pulwama attack; and mobilise international pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism in Kashmir.

India has had a measure of success with this strategy, thanks to the evolution of the international context and the regional balance of power in India’s favour. From pressing India to talk Kashmir after every major military crisis, the major powers (with the exception of China) are now demanding that Pakistan put an end to terror first. Few in the world are today itching to resolve the Kashmir conflict. This change is rooted in turn in the dramatic reversal of the economic fortunes of Pakistan.

Until the early 1990s, Pakistan’s economy grew at a much faster pace than that of India. As economic reforms kicked in, India grew rapidly. A quarter century later, the Indian economy is nearly 10 times larger than Pakistan’s. Bangladesh, once the poor cousin, is now set to become a larger economy than Pakistan. As its army privileged jihadi violence, Pakistan has long ceased to be the attractive state that it once was — a dynamic economy, moderate political orientation and a natural leader of the Islamic world. 

Is India taking full advantage of the shift in the regional balance of power? That is a far more interesting question than others at play today: Whether and when might Delhi talk to Islamabad? If India does resume talks, what weight might Delhi attach to the Kashmir question? If the old framework of dialogue with Pakistan was rooted in India’s weakness, Delhi now may see no reason to return to it. But “not talking to Pakistan” can’t be an end in itself. It should be about finding new terms of engagement with Pakistan.

Non- functional OIC & Gulf Crises

The recent meetings of OIC in Makkah have again proved its futility and inefficiency to resolve any disputes and controversies amongst member state or strategic resolutions for Muslim community in general. For the last many years this organisation, it seems, has become a mercenary for safeguarding some strategic and vested interests of super powers in the region, and has totally ignored the aims and objectives for which it was created. The root cause to form OIC in 1969 was to achieve some consensus and dispute resolution approach for Palestine – Israel conflict.

Unfortunately that issue has lost its significance for the organisation and now it is directly or indirectly involved in consolidation of political and strategic interests of Israel, not that of Palestinians. Any consensus on the issues relating to fractured Muslim community world over or any non controversial resolution for some unified causes is seldom passed or action taken. This organisation failed even passing any unified resolution to condemn US action of shifting its embassy to Jerusalem or taking any unified action against those who supported the American decision to nullify the disputed status of Jerusalem.

The recent US – Iran dispute relating to sanctions on Iranian oil trade and its nuclear programs is just Americans’ rogue policy of destabilisation of Muslim countries in the region to safeguard the military and strategic interests of Israel and USA. Just like other incidents, the recent one was also tactically initiated and instigated by American agents by bombing the oil tankers in UAE waters to ignite the war like situation. The OIC meeting, in this US initiated controversy to create a new military unrest in the region, was totally unwarranted in the present circumstance.

It was a wait and watch situation for Saudi Arabia and start some legal proceedings against Iran if its involvement in tanker bombardment was proved. It seems it was a calculated attempt to deepen the Saudi Arabia – Iran political conflict to further level to flash it as Arab- non Arab conflict or to be more precise, to widen the Shia- Sunni divide in the region, which is most suited to America and its allies. Saudi Arabia in its ambitious mission to establish itself as a regional super power of Arab and gulf region, has politically and strategically failed drastically, to set up its vested position. These meetings of Arab league or OIC have not done any good to Arab countries in any controversial matter of the region whether related to Palestine, Iran Iraq war, Iraq Kuwait controversy, the Qatar crisis , Syrian war and refugee problem, the Libyan civil war , Yemen- Saudi conflict, Egyptian coup d’etat or illusions of so called Arab spring.

At every stage it failed to reach on a consensus resolution to protect the region from foreign interventions and regional skirmishes. Saudi Arabia has tactically converted these international platforms into its political agency for resolving the agenda in its favour. The invitation to Qatar for the recent Arab league and OIC’s conference and the presence of Qatari Prime Minister in the meeting was taken as a welcome move by the international community in general and it was optimistically expected that the ice may melt in future in Qatar Saudi relations. However seeing the Saudi attitude towards Qatar after the meeting, any positive breakthrough in this regard is not expected in near future.

An under the lines datum of the region, that can easily be grasped is Iran’s strategic and military supremacy over KSA. After the success of Iranian Islamic revolution and establishment of shia religious state, Iran has gradually emerged politically and strategically more stable and stronger after every gulf war.

The interesting fact for all the military and political upheavals in the Arab/ gulf region is that it has always benefitted Iran in all its matrix . Every time America emerges in the scene to curb the power of Iran, it has create better opportunities and political and military strength to Iran and it emerges again with more power, strength and stronger political presence in the region.

The conversion of Iraq in a Shia dominant state after Saddam, the presence of powerful Hizbullah militia in Lebanon, the victory of Bashar Al Assad in Syria over all the allied militias and groups, and the recent Hauthi take over of Yemen government and their war with Saudia, all have provided good opportunities to benefit Iran to make it more dominant and strategically advance in the region in comparison to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arab is currently surrounded by strong Shia militia states, except the Red Sea side . Iran gained this military and political advancement in the presence and probably under the strategic patronage of America, as more powerful Shia state will suite America to strengthen its presence in the region and also to affright Saudi Arabia for better arm deals.

The inquisition of Saudi involvement in Yemen war is interesting from another angle also. The military experts continuously believed that military balance of Iran is ahead of Saudi Arabia because of Iranian army’s war experiences with Iraq in 1980s and its involvement in proxy wars of Iraq to oust Saddam and more recently in Syrian civil war. Saudi forces don’t have any such war experiences, except military exercises.

It was urgent and inevitable for Saudi Arabia to get real war field experiences for making its armed forces, and Yemen’s political crisis provided it an opportunity for its armed forces to fulfil their long awaited necessity to be at par with Iran in war experiences. It is evident from the fact that during the time when houthi Shias of Yemen started to take advance military positions and control of arm depot, Saudis didn’t bother much, but when they established themselves in full military control in Yemen , Saudi Arab with its regional allies started war with them, because it was a long awaited desire of Saudis to get some real war experiences.

The same strategy was in files for Qatar also but Qatar responded quickly and strategically mobilised its close allies of Muslim world to drove Saudis on back foot. This was a historic victory of Qatar over Saudis that instead of bowing down on Saudi dictates, it strategically mobilised the peace loving nations and Muslim ummah in its favour and emerged as a stronger Pearce loving independent state.

The American involvement in all the regional crises of gulf is inevitable and all that for economic and political bunch of Israel and America. It is obvious that main purpose of all these military conflicts is to promote the American Arms trading in the region and a fear of uncertainty and skepticism for Saudi and other regional monarchies.

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies largely depend on America for their security and political establishments. The expansion of Shia- Sunni conflict , or as a matter of fact , the increasing Saudi – Iran crisis is most suited to global super powers to settle their goal in the region. The regional countries must realise the political ambitions of those military giants and try to settle the issues locally and amicably without involving US or Russia as these powers have always worsened the situation and moulded the same for their political and economic benefits.

The regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran should resist their regional ambitions and must initiate mutual and multilateral dialogues to resolve their political and economic differences in the region for the larger benefit and betterment of Muslim ummah. This will benefit both the countries through better utilisation of their oil wealth on welfare of Muslim ummah as a whole, instead of spending on arm and ammunition piling only to enrich the arm traders and nothing else

When Indian MiGs And French Rafales Bombed A Tiny Island Off Karnataka

Indian and France held bilateral Varuna Naval exercises which saw the largest and most sophisticated deployment of their naval assets ever in the Indian Ocean.

On May 9, sixteen fighter jets, including eight Indian Navy MiG-29Ks and 8 French Rafale-M jets “clashed” over the Arabian Sea off the coast of Karnataka.

The fighters, which were split into two groups of eight each, had their job cut out. One element, designated the strike force, would attempt to hit a small island near Karwar with rockets, bombs and guns while a defensive force of eight MiG and Rafales would attempt to intercept them at beyond visual ranges before they could fire their weapons.

Controlling each element was an airborne early warning aircraft, an E2-D, deployed off the French nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle and an Indian Navy Kamov Ka-31 helicopter which took off from the deck of India’s aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

Both warships, the de Gaulle and the Vikramaditya were at the centre of the bilateral Varuna Naval exercises, which saw the largest and most sophisticated deployment of Indian and French naval assets ever in the Indian Ocean featuring carriers, nuclear and conventional submarines, destroyers, frigates and support ships. Varuna 2019, which began with air combat exercises off the Karnataka coast, ended up with submarine warfare exercises off the Horn of Africa where the French Navy has a base.

Senior Navy officers who NDTV spoke to have said the air combat exercises added ”exceptional training value” with the attack on the small island off Karwar being one of the highlights. The exercise culminated with the fighters of both sides proceeding to hit targets along the cliff face of the island.

Key to working together was developing common communication protocols meant to ensure that French and Indian Naval aviators can operate together during a conflict. However, basic operational differences remain. The electronic data-link onboard the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K is not compatible with what the French Rafales operate. As a result all tactical communications (information sharing) between the French and Indian jets were done through verbal communications on radio. Indian Navy officers have told NDTV that the gunnery exercises themselves were very successful with both sides accurately hitting their targets.

Navy officers did not share details of the air to air engagements between Indian Navy MiG-29Ks and the French Rafales. All of these exercises were done at beyond visual ranges of between 60 to 80 kilometres with the Indian Navy sharing that they were able to detect and engage the more-sophisticated Rafale fighter but score-lines of these exercises were not provided to this correspondent. However, Navy sources have repeatedly mentioned to NDTV that none of the exercises involved a straight “fight” between French and Indian forces with both sides deciding to deploy combined forces to maximise interoperability.

The French Rafale fighter is central to India’s plans with the Indian Air Force set to receive the first few of its 36 Rafale jets in September this year. Prior to that, the Indian Air Force will be sending its Sukhoi-30 fighters across to France along with refuelling tankers in early July to participate in the Garuda series of air exercises between the two countries. These jets will fly with and fly against French Air Force Rafales giving the IAF exposure to the advanced fighter that it will soon be in the process of inducting.

Sunday Special: Surviving & Thriving in Our Age of Uncertainty

The scale of technological change makes it virtually impossible to forecast what kinds of threats are on the near-horizon.

We are living through an era of intense turbulence, disillusionment and bewilderment. Deepening geopolitical tensions are transforming international relations, and political tribalism is revealing deep fissures within countries. The spread of exponential technologies is upending long-held assumptions about security, politics, economics and so much more. At least two factors distinguish the current phase of globalization from past iterations.

First, the accelerated pace of change is making it virtually impossible to plan ahead. The speed of transformation, and its effects on markets, firms and labour, is astonishing. Second, the interdependence of global financial and trading systems and supply chains means that even the smallest of local glitches can have planetary ramifications. And while the world has never been more intertwined, it seems harder than ever to solve the most pressing transnational problems.

The difference that three decades can make

Back in 1989, there was a sense of inevitable human progress. The invention of the worldwide web was supposed to herald a new, flourishing age. There was a widely held expectation that the digital commons would shrink the world, forge powerful networks of solidarity, expand freedom of expression and bolster progressive political and social movements everywhere.

Likewise, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were supposed to spread liberal democratic principles and values, and hasten the end of history. While the number of democracies did increase, so did ominous signs of illiberalism. Not everyone in newly democratic countries benefited equally. In hindsight, expectations that the web and democracy would set us free seem quaint, even naïve.

Granted, the world has faced some serious setbacks in the intervening period. Few events have had greater impact on recent history than the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US-led intervention in Iraq, and the 2008 financial crisis. The war on terror has cost American taxpayers close to $6 trillion – roughly $32 million an hour. It also triggered tremendous political upheaval, from Afghanistan to Syria, laying bare the limits of US power.

Meanwhile, in 2008, the collapse of US banks, mortgage lenders and insurers contributed to the largest economic meltdown in history, including roughly $10 trillion in losses. The 2008 financial crisis spread much faster than the Great Depression of the 1930s; by 2009, global GDP contracted in real terms for the first time. The crisis shattered the illusion that financial instability had been relegated to the past. It also unleashed a virulent strain of partisan antagonism that rattled American democracy to its foundations, leading to the rise of Brexit and Trump. Both events have left deep political and economic scars.

Tolerating uncertainty

In stark contrast to the confident years of the 1990s, it is hard to know what happens next. Anxiety has replaced hubris. On the one hand, states and communities are growing more divided. In Western countries, there is a palpable resentment of the elites by the left-behind who have watched their own wages stagnate. On the other hand, the pace and scale of technological change make it virtually impossible to forecast what kinds of threats are on the near-horizon, much less how to deal with them.

While political parties are generally good at managing the daily business of governing, they are struggling to craft a realistic plan looking five to 10 years into the future.

The relentless spread of new technologies – artificial intelligence, robotics, genomics and biotechnology – is mesmerizing and unnerving in equal measure. There are widespread fears that automation will generate mass unemployment, in poor and wealthy countries alike, and that algorithms could hack electorates and destroy democracy itself. The last stories of inevitability – the empowering potential of the internet and the dominance of liberal democracy – are over. There are no discursive guardrails to give direction. The absence of a unifying narrative is deeply unsettling, especially in the West.

All of this requires that we face up to an uncomfortable truth. While there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future (especially if you are Asian), interdependency and acceleration are making it harder, not easier, to work on solving common global problems, ranging from climate change and financial collapse to the spread of weapons of mass destruction or deadly pandemics. The question on every decision-maker’s mind is how to cope – much less thrive – in a fractious, multipolar world.

To make matters worse, many political parties around the world are in crisis. Most of them are wedded to an outdated 20th-century paradigm that envisions the world through the prism of left and right, or capitalism versus socialism. While political parties are generally good at managing the daily business of governing, they are struggling to craft a realistic plan looking five to 10 years into the future. With few exceptions, politicians are instead retreating to the past and peddling nostalgic fantasies. Unless political parties radically reinvent themselves, liberal democracies risk becoming irrelevant.

Acceleration and interdependence are generating uncertainty across all domains of human life. Take the case of education. For the first time in a century, most societies do not know what to teach in their schools and universities. As in the case of politics, the focus is often on short-term priorities or recycling the past. Some educators are investing heavily in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – and preparing young people for lifelong learning. The hope is that children will become digitally literate and creative early adopters. The reality is that no one has a clue what skills will be relevant in a few years’ time, much less what tomorrow’s jobs will look like.

In an accelerating and interdependent world, the decisions taken by political and business leaders in the coming years will be incredibly consequential, shaping every facet of our future. The good news is that greater access to the internet and means of communication is shrinking digital divides. As a result, more and more people will have opportunities to influence the debate and take action. Whether or not citizens have the time or energy to be part of the conversation, the truth is that everyone will be affected, and some more negatively than others.

Time to roll up our sleeves

Faced with uncertainty, many decision-makers will be tempted to stop the clock, peddle simplistic solutions and retreat to the past. This is incredibly dangerous. What is needed more than ever is greater literacy with complex ideas and active reflection on future causality. Those who complain that this is hard work had better start rolling up their sleeves. The alternatives – ignoring our most pressing challenges or dropping out – are catastrophic. The truth is that we all must understand more, so that we can fearless.

The future has never been certain or secure. The arc of history was never moral or just, and there have always been winners and losers. While bold narratives advanced by populists may offer comfort, they can also lead us disastrously down the wrong path. There have always been multiple narratives, some louder than others. Our opportunity and challenge is to accommodate a plurality of views and values, distinguish fact from fiction, and foster collective action on the most urgent existential risks facing our fragile world.

If we are to survive and thrive in this new age of uncertainty, we will all have to learn to navigate complexity. Although we are hardwired to think in the short term, we will have to teach one another, and future generations, to take the long view. The road ahead is uncertain and will likely be taxing. It will require honing our critical and analytical skills, and developing a greater capacity to anticipate, adapt to, and be resilient in the face of systemic shocks. Make no mistake – we no longer have the luxury of complacency.

Germany Plans to Win World War III

Seventy-five years after Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, Germany is once again a major military power. It is the world’s fourth-largest weapons exporter. Last year, German arms manufacturers sold $8 billion worth of weapons. Most of these weapons went to the German military, but around 15 percent were exported to Germany’s strategic partners around the world. Leopard 2 battle tanks and high-tech German armaments were an especially hot commodity among Arab monarchs, North African autocrats and Latin American presidents.

Like most nations that sell weapons, Germany is after more than profit. It is building military alliances. In particular, Germany is arming Sunni Arab nations in a long-term strategy to undermine the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran controls 15 percent of the world’s oil. The German-led European Union is the world’s second-biggest energy importer. Around 30 percent of EU oil imports and 39 percent of EU gas imports come from Russia. Germany is dependent on this oil and gas. United States President Donald Trump is calling on Germans to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas instead, so they will not be “totally controlled by Russia.” But this would make Germany more dependent on America.

If the Germans want the EU to become a self-sustaining, self-sufficient military power, they need Middle East oil.

The geopolitical realities Germany faces today are similar to the ones it faced during World War ii. In many ways, the European theater was a fight over the petroleum Adolf Hitler needed to fuel the German Reich.

The Nazis made several strategic mistakes that contributed to their ultimate defeat. But Bible prophecy shows that the Germans have learned from these mistakes and have devised a secret strategy to win World War iii.

“We don’t understand German thoroughness,” the late Herbert W. Armstrong told World Tomorrow radio listeners the day after Nazi Germany surrendered. “From the very start of World War ii, they have considered the possibility of losing this second round, as they did the first—and they have carefully, methodically planned, in such eventuality, the third round—World War iii! Hitler has lost. This round of war, in Europe, is over. And the Nazis have now gone underground. … Now a Nazi underground is methodically planned. They plan to come back and to win on the third try.”

Why the Nazis Lost World War II

World War ii began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany. After the Nazis conquered Poland and France, Adolf Hitler sent a Nazi force to North Africa under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. Four months later, he launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. These invasions of North Africa and the Soviet Union changed Germany’s war from a one-front conflict against a weakened Britain into a three-front fight against Britain, the Soviet Union and France’s North African colonies.

Why did Hitler invade North Africa and the Soviet Union before he conquered Britain? He needed oil.

Rommel was trying to capture the Suez Canal, which would have opened a route to the oil field of the Middle East. Meanwhile, Field Marshall Wilhelm List was trying to conquer the Soviet oil field in the Caucasus Mountains. British troops halted Rommel’s advance at the Second Battle of El Alamein. Russian troops halted List’s advance at the Battle of Stalingrad. These two battles were the beginning of the end for Hitler’s Third Reich.

“By 1944, German access to oil had been seriously impaired—and the results were devastating,” wrote Gregory Brew in “How Oil Defeated the Nazis” (OilPrice.com). “The Luftwaffe, Germany’s mighty air force, was grounded. Panzer divisions couldn’t maneuver for fear of using up precious oil. German Army units lacked mobility and couldn’t respond quickly when the Allied armies arrived on the shores of Normandy. Lack of fuel crippled the German Army. … On May 8, 1945, Hitler committed suicide, after his armies crumbled from a lack of men, equipment—and fuel.”

Many military minds believe that Hitler could have won World War ii if he had directed Germany’s forces south instead of east. With a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union already in place, and most of Western Europe under his control, Hitler could have chosen to invade the Middle East before attacking Russia. How would this have worked out?

“A German Mediterranean option would have been very different than invading the Soviet Union,” wrote Michael Peck in “What If Hitler Never Invaded Russia During World War II?” “Instead of a huge Axis land army of 3 million men, the Mediterranean would have been a contest of ships and aircraft, supporting relatively small numbers of ground troops through the vast distances of the Middle East. With the Soviet Union remaining neutral (and continuing to ship resources to Germany under the Nazi-Soviet Pact), Germany would have been able to concentrate the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean. … Assuming the Axis were successful in the Middle East, the Soviets would have faced a German-Italian expeditionary force advancing north through the Caucasus (perhaps Turkey would have joined the rising Axis tide). Another year would also have given Germany more time to loot and exploit the resources of conquered Western Europe.”

In fact, Field Marshall Rommel lamented that Germany did not enact a similar strategy to the scenario Peck described. After his defeat at the Battle of El Alamein, the famed commander wrote, “We could have defeated and destroyed the British Field Army, and that would have opened the road to the Suez Canal. … With the entire Mediterranean coastline in our hands, supplies could have been shipped to North Africa unmolested. It would then have been possible to thrust forward into Persia and Iraq in order to cut off the Russians from Basra [which became a major source of Russian oil after Hitler invaded], take possession of the oil fields and create a base for an attack on southern Russia.”

Rommel believed Germany would have won World War II—if it had invaded the Middle East first!

Germany’s Whirlwind Strategy

Together with firms in Austria, France and the Netherlands, German energy companies are spending over $5 billion to build a Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea. This pipeline will transport 55 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to Germany each year, reducing Western Europe’s reliance on gas from Eastern Europe and from the United States.

But German leaders do not want to be dependent on Russian gas forever. In fact, Germany’s government opposes President Trump’s economic sanction against Iran because these sanctions hurt Iran’s biggest oil company, Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Co. Germany is trying to set up a new payment mechanism, called Instex, which it can use to buy Iranian oil. This EU-backed system will be based on barter transaction, thus eliminating incriminating money trails. It will allow European firms to buy Iranian oil without risk of prosecution for circumventing U.S. sanctions.

The fact that Germany is making such energy deals with Russia and Iran reveals how badly it wants to distance itself from America. Many elite Germans feel their nation has now gotten all it can from the U.S. and they are ready to move on.

Germany is undermining the U.S. to get Iranian oil, but that does not mean that it is a true friend of Iran. Over the past two decades, German arms manufacturers have sold over $3 billion worth of weapons to Iran’s Sunni Arab rivals in the Middle East. And the Bundeswehr currently has over 2,000 troops involved in Middle Eastern operations. These weapons sales and strategic troop deployments are meant to strengthen Arab states at Iran’s expense.

Now that horizontal drilling and hydraulic “fracking” technology have set America on a path to energy independence, President Trump is talking about pulling more and more U.S. troops out of the Middle East. This means that Germany will have to step up its military presence in this volatile region if it wants an alternative to Russian gas!

How World War III Will Start

At the end of World War II, many thought that the Germans would learn from the tactical mistakes they made during World War I and World War II, and rise once again to superpower status.

In World War I, the Kaiser, allied with Austria, sought to conquer France, Britain and America. American industry finally beat him. In World War II, Hitler tried to conquer the world, first by taking Austria and the Sudetenland thru diplomatic gangsterism; then second, with lightning-quick war, taking Poland, Denmark and Norway, Holland, Belgium and France; and third, while holding these nations by the throat with his Gestapo, and allied with his junior partner Mussolini, to conquer Russia on the east and Britain on the west. But again, American industry, and action at Dunkirk, El Alamein and the destruction of the German hydrogen-bomb plant at Peenemuende defeated Hitler. But this time the Nazis plan to sidestep the causes of past defeats. Instead of exhausting their own strength by holding European nations as captives at the expense of vital Gestapo manpower, they plan to head and dominate a United States of Europe—and add the manpower of those nations to their own military divisions. And secondly, they plan to strike their first blow, not at France or Poland in Europe, but with hydrogen bombs by surprise attack on the centers of American industry! If this happens, it shall be a calamity.

Five National Security Challenges Facing India

We have crested the final wave of an exhausting election campaign. But there is always a tomorrow, and a nation to run, never mind who will helm things at Lok Kalyan Marg. This was also the first election where national security played a role we hadn’t seen in recent years.

So as New Delhi prepares for a same-old, same-new or new-new government, we take a look at the top five national security imperatives India will need to tackle, both in the immediate and longer term.

The new PM will be haring off to distant capitals within weeks of taking over. (S)he will need to address a growing trade dispute with the US if we don’t want to tank that relationship. But on a bigger scale, India needs to urgently address much more important issues.

Heading the list would certainly be China. President Xi Jinping’s campaign season “gift” of Masood Azhar at the UNSC should not obscure the bigger challenge China poses to India’s national security. Quite apart from China’s economic and military asymmetry, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that China’s territorial ambitions have somehow dimmed, particularly as a result of the US-China trade war. China challenges India in the Indian Ocean, via Pakistan and through an economic model that keeps India on the losing side in trade.

China has become adept at talking Wuhan but walking Doklam. We like to walk Wuhan and pretend Doklam isn’t happening.

India cannot but develop asymmetrical advantages of its own. These could start with ramping up our investments in Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh. But, guess what the Azhar listing taught us? You can squeeze Pakistan to make China squeal. That’s a valuable lesson and should be used by the Indian state in future. More important, India needs to shed its touch-me-not tag in the oceans. New Delhi finally gathered up the courage to do a joint drill with the US, Japan and Philippines last week, but only after it had assuaged China at its fleet review. I can almost hear sarkari strategists saying, but, but, but …. Of course, we have to hedge. But more often than not, India hedges to duck from tough choices.

The new government has an opportunity to play a better game. So, build up the Quad and the India-Japan-US trilateral. Keep up the opposition to Belt, Road and CPEC. Keep Pakistan on its toes regarding support to terrorism, both diplomatically and through the multilateral route like IMF and FATF.

Second, India is staring at a huge decision that will affect not only its national security, but foreign policy and its technological future. Sooner rather than later India will have to make choices on the 5G debate. 5G has the potential to transform India’s knowledge economy, but also its defence structures. With the growing global faultlines, India will not be able to do its normal jugaad, a little bit of one, a little of another. Our decision to go with Huawei and China or with the Western networks will go a long way in determining the tilt of our foreign policy. Those happy swinging days are coming to an end. As intelligence sharing, military interoperability increasingly ride on commercial 5G networks, India will have to walk one road. Artificial intelligence, industry 4/5.0, internet of things, autonomous platforms are bringing civilian and military futures together.

Third, we need to urgently review our system of defence acquisitions. Balakot demonstrated political will to use military force against terror. But the fact remains that after two days of a military conflict with Pakistan, we did not demonstrate military superiority. It is imperative, for the sake of national security, for the new government to streamline this crazy system. One idea might be to set up an autonomous entity for acquisition, populated by MEA, armed services, finance ministry and CAG – keep it clean, keep it quick, while being audited simultaneously, use an apex decision-making leadership headed by the PM.

Fourth, Islamic State has made landfall in South Asia. After the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, India cannot be blind to the implications. South India is increasingly vulnerable not merely as a target but as a hub for radical leadership. That will need some hard thinking between the states and Centre.

Simultaneously, India has adopted a hardline no-dialogue approach to Pakistan. After JeM’s Azhar was banned, nothing stops Rawalpindi from activating say, AQIS to operate in India with plausible deniability. We need to open some kind of dialogue with Pakistan, even at the NSA level, without letting up on the pressure. As long as Pakistan remains a state that naturally uses terrorism against India, the threat from IS would be the same as from LeT and JeM or the Haqqani network.

Finally, India needs to build strategic communication into its national security strategy. This is not between MEA/PMO and the media – it is a clear articulation of India’s policies and intents to friends and foes. When India was a smaller and weaker power, ambiguity allowed it to stay afloat. It’s in a different place now. There should be no ambiguity, for instance, what India’s nuclear posture is, which provocation will invite what level of retribution. Same applies for terrorism.

The same applies to India’s Indo-Pacific policy. India needs to think of this to make broad strategies, red lines and intent clear even within its own government. Whether in Islamabad, Beijing or even in North Block, that clarity will be important. This will not only help India’s grand strategy masters, it will also clarify state intent even to investors and business. As India moves to become a bigger power with bigger stakes in the world, predictability and clarity will be very important.

Saturday Special: Why are we inept at spotting mistakes?

Here’s a quick quiz for you:

• In the biblical story, what was Jonah swallowed by? 

• How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark? 

Did you answer “whale” to the first question and “two” to the second? Most people do … even though they’re well aware that it was Noah, not Moses who built the ark in the biblical story.

Psychologists like me call this phenomenon the Moses Illusion. It’s just one example of how people are very bad at picking up on factual errors in the world around them. Even when people know the correct information, they often fail to notice errors and will even go on to use that incorrect information in other situations.

Research from cognitive psychology shows that people are naturally poor fact-checkers and it is very difficult for us to compare things we read or hear to what we already know about a topic. In what’s been called an era of “fake news,” this reality has important implications for how people consume journalism, social media and other public information. 

Failing to notice what you know is wrong 

The Moses Illusion has been studied repeatedly since the 1980s. It occurs with a variety of questions and the key finding is that – even though people know the correct information – they don’t notice the error and proceed to answer the question.

In the original study, 80 percent of the participants failed to notice the error in the question despite later correctly answering the question “Who was it that took the animals on the Ark?” This failure occurred even though participants were warned that some of the questions would have something wrong with them and were given an example of an incorrect question.

The Moses Illusion demonstrates what psychologists call knowledge neglect – people have relevant knowledge, but they fail to use it.

One way my colleagues and I have studied this knowledge neglect is by having people read fictional stories that contain true and false information about the world. For example, one story is about a character’s summer job at a planetarium. Some information in the story is correct: “Lucky me, I had to wear some huge old space suit. I don’t know if I was supposed to be anyone in particular – maybe I was supposed to be Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.” Other information is incorrect: “First I had to go through all the regular astronomical facts, starting with how our solar system works, that Saturn is the largest planet, etc.”

Later, we give participants a trivia test with some new questions (Which precious gem is red?) and some questions that relate to the information from the story (What is the largest planet in the solar system?). We reliably find positive effects of reading the correct information within the story – participants are more likely to answer “Who was the first person to step foot on the moon?” correctly. We also see negative effects of reading the misinformation – participants are both less likely to recall that Jupiter is the largest planet and they are more likely to answer with Saturn. 

These negative effects of reading false information occur even when the incorrect information directly contradicts people’s prior knowledge. In one study, my colleagues and I had people take a trivia test two weeks before reading the stories. Thus, we knew what information each person did and did not know. Participants still learned false information from the stories they later read. In fact, they were equally likely to pick up false information from the stories when it did and did not contradict their prior knowledge.

Can you improve at noticing incorrect info? 

So people often fail to notice errors in what they read and will use those errors in later situations. But what can we do to prevent this influence of misinformation?

Expertise or greater knowledge seems to help, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Even biology graduate students will attempt to answer distorted questions such as “Water contains two atoms of helium and how many atoms of oxygen?” – though they are less likely to answer them than history graduate students. (The pattern reverses for history-related questions.)

Many of the interventions my colleagues and I have implemented to try to reduce people’s reliance on the misinformation have failed or even backfired. One initial thought was that participants would be more likely to notice the errors if they had more time to process the information. So, we presented the stories in a book-on-tape format and slowed down the presentation rate. But instead of using the extra time to detect and avoid the errors, participants were even more likely to produce the misinformation from the stories on a later trivia test.

Next, we tried highlighting the critical information in a red font. We told readers to pay particular attention to the information presented in red with the hope that paying special attention to the incorrect information would help them notice and avoid the errors. Instead, they paid additional attention to the errors and were thus more likely to repeat them on the later test.

The one thing that does seem to help is to act like a professional fact-checker. When participants are instructed to edit the story and highlight any inaccurate statements, they are less likely to learn misinformation from the story. Similar results occur when participants read the stories sentence by sentence and decide whether each sentence contains an error.

It’s important to note that even these “fact-checking” readers miss many of the errors and still learn false information from the stories. For example, in the sentence-by-sentence detection task participants caught about 30 percent of the errors. But given their prior knowledge they should have been able to detect at least 70 percent. So this type of careful reading does help, but readers still miss many errors and will use them on a later test.

Quirks of psychology make us miss mistakes 

Why are human beings so bad at noticing errors and misinformation? Psychologists believe that there are at least two forces at work. 

First, people have a general bias to believe that things are true. (After all, most things that we read or hear are true.) In fact, there’s some evidence that we initially process all statements as true and that it then takes cognitive effort to mentally mark them as false.

Second, people tend to accept information as long as it’s close enough to the correct information. Natural speech often includes errors, pauses and repeats. (“She was wearing a blue – um, I mean, a black, a black dress.”) One idea is that to maintain conversations we need to go with the flow – accept information that is “good enough” and just move on.

And people don’t fall for these illusions when the incorrect information is obviously wrong. For example, people don’t try and answer the question “How many animals of each kind did Nixon take on the Ark?” and people don’t believe that Pluto is the largest planet after reading it in a fictional story.

Detecting and correcting false information is difficult work and requires fighting against the ways our brains like to process information. Critical thinking alone won’t save us. Our psychological quirks put us at risk of falling for misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. Professional fact-checkers provide an essential service in hunting out incorrect information in the public view. As such, they are one of our best hopes for zeroing in on errors and correcting them, before the rest of us read or hear the false information and incorporate it into what we know of the world.

Indian Political Bereft of Humor

Humor, when it is deliberately crafted, relies on exaggeration, even of the darkest themes. Dave Chappelle, for example, when talking about the crack-cocaine epidemic in the US through the 1980 and 1990s, has a disturbing and hilarious set about an aggressive baby suffering withdrawal. Even the laughter that Akshay Kumar elicits in Hera Pheri or Singh is King is based on playing characters that are relatable while still being completely over-the-top.

Since May 2015 — it would appear at first glance — there has been enough and more in Indian politics (remember the PM’s subtly and tastefully emblazoned Republic Day suit?) for the comedians in the crowd to ply and hone their craft. After all, we have had a single-party majority government, a dominant majority, after three decades and a leader who inspires a zeal in his followers that lends itself to the most basic form of humour — absurdity.

And indeed, many careers have been made of the backs of the seemingly ridiculous in Indian politics: Kunal Kamra shot to YouTube celebrity with an incisive take on demonetisation, as did Abijit Ganguly; there’s Sanjay Rajoura and Varun Grover, both of whom have taken the patent absurdity of the “bhakt” and the “offended” and run with it. The symbolism of the cow as mother, an animal long revered, has taken on a realism that can only cause laughter in those, who in their deracinated anti-nationalism, sometimes mistake the collective mater for a docile, economically important quadruped.

Each of these comedians, and so many more, have done an admirable job of making us laugh. But in the guffaws that they so expertly illicit, lies the tale of tragic failure. Through no fault of their own, these masters of political humour find themselves in both the best of times and the worst of times for their trade. There is indeed much to laugh about: A midnight session of Parliament — a ridiculous re-enactment of the “tryst with destiny” — to celebrate a complex way of paying taxes; the constant reference by a top leader to himself in third person; the spokespersons and their friends on tv shouting incessantly and saying nothing; the elevation and celebration of militant yogis and sadhvis (one would have thought this is a contradiction in terms). And demonetisation. There are people worshipping PMs and US presidential candidates, and play-acting at assassinating the father of the nation.

Finally, the election season “interviews”, where each question is a chance to repeat a slogan, or a personal triumph or even to extol with hitherto unseen mastery, the art of the humble-brag. The prime minister is asked about dealing with anger by a movie star, a Canadian citizen dressed in light linen and boat shoes as though ready to make his escape on a yacht should things go ill. The PM, dressed in Nehru jacket (yes, it’s still a Nehru jacket), claims that he has never acted imperiously when in office in Gujarat or Delhi and declaims, at length, about how to win friends, influence people and various other self-help-type cliches. Even the movie star doesn’t have a follow-up question.

Yes, there is indeed much to laugh about, if only as a response from the other side of tragedy. But the question is: Where’s the joke? In the scenario we have found ourselves over the last demi-decade, we can be tickled by the repetition of the (often sad) absurdities mentioned above and more, but there is no exaggeration.

But how does one exaggerate the serious debates on the caste of Hanuman? Or the insistence that a fictional Rajput queen, in a fictional film offends the sentiments of real people? Pray tell, how can you make more ridiculous tales of childhood crocodile wrestling in Gujarat? Or authored guides, turning each nervous child into an Exam Warrior? What can be added to statements by leaders who use an exact count (unsourced) of the condoms and cigarette and bidi butts found at a public university? But then, everyone is a chowkidar.

The near hegemonic presence of the current dispensation and its leaders are so grand in their novelty that they defy the craft of comedy. Yes, the context of the comedy club is different from the political rally or press conference. But in essence, all that seems possible is a repetition of the events and themes of our times, comical as they are, without adding all that much in terms of a joke.

So, if the comedians’ form of humour is impossible, what are we left with? What are people laughing at in the gigantic rallies of the ruling party and sometimes even of the Opposition?

In these scenarios, we appear to be laughing at someone. The jokester, in the vituperative world of the contemporary political conversation, is no longer the boy in the crowd pointing out the emperor’s foolishness. It is the demagogue, saffron-clad, on the pulpit. One who talks of Ramzade and Haramzade, of curses and killing. All those against this formation, including and especially the principal leader of the opposition, are the sad clowns slipping on a banana peel. And with the leader, we laugh at him for being incapable of walking down this treacherous street. The cruelty of this second kind of humour appeals to the worst in us; its joy is the revelry of the mob not the clever revelation of the outsider.

And, in the end, the joke may be on all of us.

Britain’s ‘Deep State’ Impacts Brexit

Is there a British “deep state” working to undermine Brexit? Three years ago this month, 51.9 percent of the British public voted to leave the European Union. Almost 73 percent of eligible voters participated in the June 2016 referendum, the highest turnout ever for a referendum. More than 33 million people voted. The result was unequivocal: The majority wanted to leave the EU.

Three years have passed, and Britain hasn’t budged. In that time, Brexit has taken out two prime ministers, lobotomized the nation’s two largest political parties, and paralyzed the political system with division, dysfunction and scandal.

Opinions abound. But one thing is evident: Since June 2016, an alliance of government agencies, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, and the mainstream media has worked surreptitiously to prevent Brexit. Britain has a “deep state” that is passionately committed to rejecting the democratic mandate of the British people and keeping the nation wedded to the European Union.

In an interview with BBC earlier this year, Boris Johnson, a leading Brexiteer and the leading candidate to become Britain’s next prime minister, warned what will happen if the government does not separate Britain from the EU. “I think that people will feel betrayed,” he warned, “and I think they will feel there’s been a great conspiracy by the deep state of the UK, the people who really run the country, to overturn the vote in the referendum.”

Johnson received a lot of flak for that remark. Many discarded it as typical Johnson hyperbole. But the evidence is on his side.

Britain’s deep state includes some of the nation’s most influential personalities and institutions, including the BBC, the Electoral Commission, the Treasury, the Bank of England, and myriad career politicians, civil servants and media elites. Most devastatingly, it also includes large factions of both the Labour and Conservative parties.

Let’s start with Britain’s Electoral Commission, the independent body responsible for overseeing elections and regulating political finance. This critical organization is supposed to “act at all times” to “uphold its impartiality.” To the contrary, the commission has been used as a powerful weapon to attack pro-Brexit organizations.

A 2018 investigation by the Sunday Telegraph revealed that at least four members of the commission’s 10-member board have publicly voiced support for the Remain campaign. Chairman Sir John Holmes is an avowed Remainer who has said that he “regrets the result of the referendum.”

The Electoral Commission has been accused of raiding Brexit party headquarters two days before the election and turning a blind eye to finance violations by anti-Brexit organizations whilst at the same time engaging in exhaustive investigations fishing for violations by pro-Brexit campaigns.

The Electoral Commission has actively persecuted most of the key leaders of Brexit campaigns. Since the EU referendum, Matthew Elliott, chief executive of Vote Leave; Darren Grimes, head of the youth campaign BeLeave; and Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave, have all faced harassment and investigations from the commission.

For example, after the referendum, the Electoral Commission investigated, fined and reported Vote Leave to the police for allegedly breaking the rules of campaign finance. The case went to the High Court, where Vote Leave proved that they had actually consulted with the Electoral Commission about campaign donations and had operated according to its written advice.

In September 2018, after two years in court, the High Court ruled that the Electoral Commission had given Vote Leave the wrong advice. In its judgment, the court described the commission’s behavior as “unconstructive, “arbitrary” and, in crucial instances, lacking “rational basis.” This organization is responsible for safeguarding Britain’s democracy and the rule of law!

Since 2016, Brexiteer politicians have also become targets of the anti-Brexit deep state. The most obvious example is Nigel Farage, the leader of the recently created Brexit Party and the godfather of Brexit. Farage is routinely depicted by establishment politicians and the media as a xenophobic, far-right lunatic who is bent on returning Britain to the Middle Ages. The truth is, Nigel Farage is by far the closest to being in harmony with the majority of the British public on Brexit.

Other Brexiteers have also come under attack. On May 29, for example, a district judge in London issued a court summons to start a criminal prosecution of Boris Johnson for remarks he made during the EU referendum about the cost of EU membership. The judge’s decision to sanction the criminal prosecution of routine political discourse surprised and alarmed many.

“This feels like a dangerous moment for our democracy,” said Stephen Parkinson, senior partner of London law firm Kingsley Napley. “Once we allow the criminal law into the arena of political debate, policing what can or cannot be said, that will inevitably have a chilling effect and ultimately undermine democracy itself.” By these standards, virtually any politician could be taken to criminal court.

Last week, Britain’s High Court stepped in and dismissed the lower court’s decision. Just in time too. This week, Conservative Party members of Parliament are in the process of selecting Britain’s next prime minister, and Boris Johnson is the leading candidate. An ongoing criminal investigation would likely have removed Johnson—one of the party’s strongest Brexiteers—from the race.

Then there’s the BBC, an iconic organization and easily the most influential news organization in Britain. The BBC operates independently from the government and is financed by the British taxpayer. Its editorial guidelines state: “Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences.”

But not when it comes to Brexit and the UK’s relations with the EU. The BBC has a long history of being pro-EU. This is documented in numerous polls and studies. This January 2018 report from Civitas, a respected think tank, documents how “pro-Brexit voices have been marginalized in the BBC’s coverage of EU issues for most of the past 20 years.”

The report is filled with evidence showing the BBC’s anti-Brexit bent. For example, “[O]f 4,275 survey-period guests talking about the EU on bbc Radio 4’s flagship Today program between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 percent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.”

A YouGov poll from January 2018 showed that 45 percent of Leave voters believed that the BBC was actively anti-Brexit. (Among Remain voters, only 13 percent considered the BBC pro-Brexit).

Influential BBC news programs like Today and Question Time are notoriously anti-Brexit. Whilst both programs feature pro-Brexit personalities, the pro-Brexit figures are nearly always outnumbered by Remainers, generally, have less time to speak, and are subject to much stronger scrutiny and pushback.

I watch the news, including the BBC, and I have yet to see a single story making a strong case that Britain can and will successfully exit the EU. This is shocking, considering a majority of the nation voted to leave Europe. The BBC simply refuses to report in a positive manner on the democratic will of the majority of the British public.

Meanwhile, it’s keen and quick to report—often melodramatically—on the slightest hint or suggestion that Brexit could have negative consequences. It is now routine to hear people expressing dismay at the BBC for its Brexit coverage. “Frankly, the BBC has become the supporter of a foreign organization called the EU,” opined former Conservative M.P. Lord Norman Tebbit last year.

It’s not just the BBC. Except for two or three tabloids, Britain’s media actively undermines Brexit across the board. Often, this means engaging in sinister attacks on Brexit figures and organizations like Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. The list of those who use social media, tv and the papers to undermine Brexit and slander Brexiteers reads like a who’s who of Britain’s elite. It includes former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; top sports stars, including Gary Lineker (former footballer and a top BBC talent); and global icon Sir David Attenborough.

Then there’s the Treasury and the Bank of England. The Treasury is the government department responsible for managing the UK’s economy and finances. Ahead of the June 2016 referendum, it attempted to frighten people from voting for Brexit with relentless warnings that leaving the EU would “cause an immediate and profound economic shock” and would plunge the nation into a terrible recession. In fact, the UK economy grew in both 2016 and 2017, and unemployment, instead of rising dramatically as the Treasury forecast, fell.

Since June 2016, the Treasury has delivered one jeremiad after another. And for three years, Britain’s economy has defied the forecast and remained strong and healthy. Charles Moore recently opined that the Treasury is “so anti-Brexit that it tries to weaken the British economy to prove its own dismal forecasts right.”

It’s the same with the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank. This bank, wrote Sir Paul Marshall in the Financial Times in January, “has now come to embody anti-Brexit cognitive bias to such a degree that it endangers its credibility as an institution.” The Bank of England’s predictions about the negative consequences of Brexit “were so far adrift as to be embarrassing,” he wrote.

There’s also the civil service, comprised of thousands of employees in an assembly of government departments who are responsible for advising the government and executing the decisions of cabinet leaders. Britain’s civil service has a wonderful legacy of efficiency and order; the civil service was the engine that kept the British Empire purring. Today, many are concerned that the civil service is filled with Remainers who, instead of setting aside their personal views and executing the will of the British public, are working to undermine Brexit and keep Britain in the EU.

This article from an active civil servant is distressing. “As a civil servant I can tell you large parts of the Whitehall machine are systematically working against leaving the EU,” it says. “I have met thousands of civil servants in the past few years: I can only recall five who voted for Brexit.”

Others, including respected journalists such as Charles Moore and Allison Pearson, as well as politicians such as Conservative M.P. Sir John Redwood, have expressed similar fears. “I don’t generally set much store by talk of establishment conspiracies. History teaches us that more things arise from [human error] than collusion. Still, over the past week, it has been hard to suppress a gnawing feeling that we are approaching the climax of a powerful and well-coordinated plot to thwart the democratic will of the British people as expressed in the referendum on June 23, 2016,” wrote Pearson last November. She wrote that a “coup is being staged by civil service against the British people.”

We’ve just hit 2,000 words and I haven’t even discussed Britain’s mainstream political parties. The past three years have furnished an enormous volume of evidence proving that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have large contingents that simply do not want Brexit. Many politicians talk about accomplishing the will of the people and leaving the EU.

But they are infused with the spirit of the deep state and refuse to take action to uphold the rule of law and democra

Weekend Special: Grace- The Crucial Trait Missing in Most Leaders

Many of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs are not known for their grace. Our culture associates a certain type of “robust” personality with business success: whether it’s the catchphrases of TV shows like The Apprentice (“you’re fired”), Dragon’s Den (“I’m out”) and Mad Money (“bulls make money; bears make money; hogs get slaughtered”); or the titles of business biographies (The Titan, The Patriarch, Make Trouble, The Power Broker); the role of grace in business leadership is treated as a lower order trait.

Yet grace is a crucial ingredient of leadership today. Grace is the understanding that leaders don’t achieve great things on their own; they need others to work with, who they trust and respect. Leaders build empathy and loyalty with their colleagues, stakeholders, customers and audiences, through personal generosity and warmth. Graceful leaders lack hubris, recognize their shortcomings and are quick to give credit to others.

Hubris – believing your own PR – is found in all fields. Jonas Salk failed to give appropriate credit to his team for the discovery of the polio vaccine. The list of disgraced business leaders, brought down by a belief in their unfailing omniscience, continues to grow. Hubris is present in many of today’s political leaders.

But there are also leaders capable of displaying great amounts of grace. In today’s business environment, where collaboration across professions and organizations is crucial, and where creativity and intuition are important resources to be nurtured, there is significant value in leaders who are graceful.

We found female leaders more easily recognize that competition is not always a zero-sum game. Several women we spoke to were dismissive of the “nature is red in tooth and claw” view of the world, and ridiculed a testosterone-driven approach to management.

Stephanie Shirley is a software pioneer who created a hugely successful company comprised initially entirely of women, fighting exceptional personal and business difficulties in so doing. As an indication of the challenges she faced, when she began her firm, women couldn’t open bank accounts without the permission of their husbands. Finding businesses did not reply to her under her name, she changed it with immediate effect to Steve. By wholeheartedly supporting and trusting her employees, she accumulated great wealth and, as one of the UK’s leading philanthropists, has dedicated her life and indefatigable energy to giving it away.

Grace is also found in the ambitions of two young Silicon Valley science entrepreneurs, Elizabeth Iorns and Jenna Tregarthen, who are strongly motivated by personal concerns in building their businesses. Iorns created a company that brokers the use of scientific equipment and she strongly believes in the need to provide career opportunities for young scientists.

Tregarthen formed a company that helps aid the recovery of thousands of young people suffering from eating disorders. Both have reason to be pleased with their achievements, but any acknowledgement of success is modestly attributed to others, and their focus lies in describing the continuing challenges ahead.

Being graceful does not imply any lack of ambition and personal fortitude. It is hard to imagine a more resolute and determined person than Carla del Ponte. When she was Switzerland’s Attorney General, and in the face of fierce opposition, she changed Swiss banking laws to prevent the laundering of criminal proceeds. In the process of doing so, the mafia murdered her close Italian colleague and counterpart and she received death threats.

Del Ponte then led the international tribunals prosecuting war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, facing direct opposition from those countries in which the crimes occurred, and indifference and occasional hostility from supposed supporters.

Yet amongst her achievements she succeeded in getting the first ever head of state to answer charges before an international tribunal. Her grace lies in serving the interests of justice, in the belief that when something is right, it gives you the strength of character to confront extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

The studies also found numerous examples of graceful male leaders, displaying great empathy and generosity of spirit. They include, for example, Sir Ove Arup, the founder of the international design company, Arup; Gerard Fairtlough, who played a crucial role establishing the UK biotechnology industry; and Lord Norman Fowler, the politician who has campaigned so determinedly to combat AIDS.

The great American author, Marilynne Robinson, wrote in Lila: “Grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways.” And the leaders we researched, male and female, displayed grace that was manifested in many different ways. For some, grace comes naturally, for others it needs to be cultivated, but it is an essential ingredient for leaders in a complex and uncertain world.

At a time when combativeness and vicious disagreements are poisoning our social fabric, there would be much value if all our leaders, and especially high-profile leaders in politics and business, displayed considerably more grace.

Differences & Similarities of Canada & U.S. Immigration Policy

In a rare gesture of supposed moderation, U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed that his country follow the lead of Canada in regards to the kind of people it welcomes as immigrants.

The Republican president announced he hoped to change U.S. immigration policy so that, instead of allowing in only 12 per cent of newcomers based on their skills, the world’s largest economy would welcome 60 per cent based on “merit.”

His target figure for skilled immigrants would be virtually the same as that of Canada.

But Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi immediately dismissed Trump’s plan to increase the proportion of skilled immigrants as “dead on arrival” and “not a remotely serious proposal.”

To Canadian ears, it was a strange response from the leading Democrat since opinion polls have consistently shown over decades that four of five Canadians would, if they had a chance, vote Democrat.

But such is politics these days in the U.S., where partisan contempt is at poisonous levels, exacerbated by a blustering Trump who is determined to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border while railing against undocumented migrants as criminals.

This latest conflict offers an opportunity to explain key differences and similarities in how the two countries handle large-scale immigration.

Let’s start with five ways U.S. immigration realities are different from Canada:

1. U.S. immigration policy emphasizes family reunification

Contrary to conventional thinking, it could be argued the U.S. system is more “compassionate” than Canada’s. Almost seven in 10 of those who settle lawfully in the U.S. are close relatives of previous immigrants. Each U.S. immigrant on average sponsors 3.5 family members.

Canada, meanwhile, restricts “family reunification” immigrants to about one in five. Canada mostly picks immigrants to boost economic expansion. Two of three immigrants are brought in because of their skills and education. Trump’s plan, created by son-in-law Jared Kushner, copies Canada’s reasoning.

2. Canada has far fewer undocumented migrants

More than 12 million residents of the U.S. arrived illegally, mostly from Central America. One quarter of all foreign-born residents in the U.S. are undocumented. This year more than 60,000 people are illegally crossing into the U.S. each month.

Since Canada has less vulnerable borders, it has not had anywhere near the difficulties with irregular migrants. It’s only recently, as a result of Trump’s threats to send illegal immigrants home, that Canada is now seeing more than 50,000 asylum seekers illicitly crossing into Canada each year, mostly via a rural road in Quebec.

Americans, especially Democrats, have been relatively tolerant of illegal immigrants streaming across the border. That’s out of both compassion and opportuneness. They provide low-wage, unregulated labourers, landscapers and nannies, especially for well-to-do Californians and Texans.

3. Canada brings in far more immigrants, proportionally

Canada welcomes three times as many immigrants per capita as the U.S.

4. Americans debate immigration more than Canadians

Our neighbouring countries could not be more different in regards to publicly discussing immigration issues.

The U.S. debate has become intense, with Pew Research polls showing Democrats and Republicans growing further apart on subjects on which they once agreed, including the need for border security. While Trump fights to build a wall, top Democrats like senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillebrand call for abolishing the U.S. customs enforcement agency.

Meanwhile, Canadian politicians rarely disagree on immigration, including on whether to maintain one of the highest rates in the world. The few politicians recommending reducing immigration totals are Maxine Bernier of the newly formed Peoples Party of Canada and Quebec Premier Francois Legault .

5. Justin Trudeau has more power than Trump on migration

A key reason Americans debate immigration policy is that the president of the U.S. cannot dictate it. The president has to get approval of the U.S. Congress, which often pushes back.

In sharp contrast, Canadian prime ministers are virtually unimpeded in ruling on immigration totals and student and worker visas. As UBC political scientist Antje Ellermann says, Canadian immigration policy is unusual because it’s dominated by the government and civil servants. The public is rarely engaged in meaningful ways.

Despite these key differences, there are significant similarities between the immigration spheres in Canada and the U.S. Here are five:

1. Many Canadians and Americans have immigration worries

Canadians have roughly the same concerns about immigration as Americans.

A poll last year by Pew Research found 53 per cent of Canadians and 46 per cent of Americans want to “deport migrants who are in the country illegally.” Asked if immigrants want to “be distinct” or “adopt our customs and way of life,” 47 per cent of Canadians said immigrants want to “be distinct,” compared to only 37 per cent of Americans.

As for the question, “Do you want to see more immigration?” 73 per cent of Americans, compared to 80 per cent of Canadians, told Pew they would like to see either a reduction in the number of new immigrants or the same amount.

2. Immigration is changing the ethnic structure of both countries

The U.S. is projected to become a “majority-minority” society in 2044. That’s when there will be more people of colour than whites. The switch will arrive partly because the U.S. has long had a large black population, but mostly due to immigration. In Canada, the forecast date for majority-minority status is 2060, virtually all due to immigration.

The Trudeau government in has more power when it comes to directly setting immigration policy in Canada than does Donald Trump as head of the executive branch of the U.S. government in that country.

3. Mobility within both countries is going down as the proportion of foreign-born goes up

Americans are moving far less between states than did their parents, largely because high housing costs in hot urban job markets turn off the native-born, David Frum writes in a recent essay in The Atlantic.

However, since immigrants benefit greatly by moving from a low-wage country to a high-wage one, Frum said they see lousy housing options as a “bearable sacrifice for all the other opportunities offered by life in the U.S.” A similar trend is occurring in Canada. The number of people moving from other provinces to B.C., for instance, dwindled to 5,000 in 2018, while the number of foreign-born jumped to 55,000.

4. Company owners arguably gain the most from large-scale immigration

Populations that grow through immigration provide more customers and eager workers for businesses. Gross Domestic Product goes up, even if wages and workers’ rights do not .

U.S. companies that rely heavily on immigrants and undocumented workers, whether in construction or caregiving, tend to have poor workplace records. So do those in Canada. Non-permanent workers also can’t vote. Since Canadian polling also shows immigrants tend to vote less than native-born residents, it suggests employers are becoming habituated to having workers who find it hard to protect their interests.

5. Neither Canadian nor U.S. politicians talk about “brain drain”

With Trump now speaking of “merit-based immigration,” it remains difficult to find a Canadian or American public figure who expresses reservations about how developing countries suffer when rich nations lure away their most educated, wealthy, reform-minded or ambitious citizens.

With immigration becoming a bigger topic globally, it’s hard to predict whether U.S. immigration discourse will become more like that in Canada. Or vice versa.

Global Aid Industry Transformation Strategy

At Harvard’s Kennedy School in 2000, the year Devex started there, the atmosphere was heady. The internet had arrived and was turning the world upside down. That year two Harvard Business School professors, Michael E. Porter and Jan W. Rivkin, published a paper entitled “Industry Transformation,” in which they argued that the internet was transforming businesses in many sectors in a revolutionary way. Indeed, five of the ten most valuable companies in the world today were formed during the internet revolution.

At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic in West Africa, a ten-year-old girl named Jaha Dukureh was grappling with the fact that she had already been promised to a much older man in New York. At one week old she had undergone a ceremonial brutality common in her country, the Gambia: her labia and clitoris were cut off in what is known nowadays as female genital mutilation, or FGM. Two hundred million women and girls in the world today have undergone this horror, which, among other things, increases the chances of death during childbirth. Now, she was soon to join the four hundred million women aged twenty to forty-nine alive today who were forced to marry while still girls, which meant, among other things, she wouldn’t get an education.

This internet era we saw budding in 2000 ultimately brought the decoding of the human genome, the development of artificial intelligence we can speak to in our homes, and such prosperity that well over two thousand people around the world are billionaires in US dollars. And yet, today 10 percent of all people on earth are still living in “absolute” or “extreme” poverty. Those adjectives are arbitrary but important. They’re an attempt to describe people who are so destitute their day-to-day survival is in doubt. Some economists refer to people in these circumstances as the “ultrapoor.”

In the country of Dukureh’s youth, the Gambia, half the people live in extreme poverty. In mine, India, it’s one-quarter of the people. Where there is extreme poverty, it’s not simply about not having enough income. Economists might measure poverty in dollars and cents, but it’s actually the sum of many interconnected deprivations too awful to put a price on. Not having enough to eat is one, sure, but another aspect of poverty is the girl with no say in when and whom she marries, how many children she has, or whether or not she gets an education. These injustices don’t just make people poor, they keep people poor.

An entire industry dedicated to ending that kind of poverty has been growing for well over half a century. The names are famous: UNICEF, World Bank, Save the Children, Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates, Malala. The industry writ large is enormous: each year more than $200 billion is dedicated to aid for the poorest people and countries.

Initially, the booming aid industry had been slower to adapt than other industries had been. This is probably because the transformational triggers that Porter and Rivkin identified—disruptive new technologies, “a change in what customers need or want,” and new regulations—were not in place. Today, they are. The new aid industry has the kind of ambitions we usually associate with Silicon Valley disruptors like Uber, Facebook, and Tesla. A confluence of related technology trends—increased internet connectivity, biometric identification, and mobile banking—is making it possible to reach the world’s poor directly and get real-time results about what’s working and what isn’t. Aid recipients are adopting the expectations of customers while donors expect results, not just feel-good information about how much money was spent on a school or how much medicine was distributed.

We are on the precipice of a new global aid industry, one that is undergoing massive transformation in three fundamental ways. First, there is a shift away from the dominance of a few big foreign aid agencies and established philanthropies into an era of more open competition. There are new players, including hard-charging billionaire philanthropists; for-profit businesses and investors aiming to make money and do good; “pure” social enterprises, “buy one, give one” companies; online crowdfunding sites; and many small startup initiatives working throughout the world. And there are new partnerships, some with major corporations, pension funds, and ordinary investors. The aid industry—formerly a closed club of mainly expat professionals—is fast becoming a global industry in which startups and social entrepreneurs challenge the power and influence of foreign aid agencies in Washington, London, and Brussels.

Second, there is a shift from a wholesale model to a retail model of aid. The wholesale mind-set envisioned aid projects as the main “unit of activity.” These often large-scale, multiyear projects are designed to reach entire populations over a set period of time within a particular budget. They are structured around identifying a problem that a population is facing, designing a solution, and implementing that solution through a cascade of contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and independent consultants—perhaps checking in at the midpoint and end of the project to monitor its actual effectiveness. Today’s technology and connectivity make it possible to do something very different. Now the individual in need, not the project, is becoming the main unit of activity. The aid industry today is increasingly targeting funds and tailoring programs to specific individuals and communities. These programs are set up like a retail business would be. They’re designed to react and iterate based on customer feedback. This is part of a major shift toward seeing aid recipients as “customers” of aid instead of nameless, voiceless “beneficiaries.”

Third, this growing focus on figuring out and rewarding what works is unleashing creative new approaches to solving the world’s biggest problems, including deeply rooted injustices like child marriage that are so linked to extreme poverty. These go well beyond the economic analysis typically associated with aid projects to include behavioral science, human-centered design, and systems thinking. Delivering results for the world’s poorest people now entails a new way of understanding poverty, hunger, disease, lack of education, and other societal ills—and what to do about them.

There is another, harder to pin down, shift going on—in attitude. The global aid industry has long operated with an underlying assumption that the most important thing is to have good intentions. This is, after all, a kind of charity. The World Bank lobby has a sign that says, in jumbo font, “Our Dream Is a World Free of Poverty.” USAID’s bags of grain delivered to hungry refugees say, “From the American People.”

For as long as people have been giving money and help to strangers, after all, they have felt driven by the intention to do good and, often, to take credit for it. Even the word “charity” derives from the Greek word agape, which refers to unconditional love for one’s fellow human beings.

The concept of charity, in other words, has been largely about the giver. It’s “our” dream and it’s “from” us. It’s a sign of “our” love: the good people who make a sacrifice to help others. When it’s all about the sacrifice, not surprisingly the amount we give somehow equates with how much love we have for those in need and, ultimately, suggests how good we are. I attended Catholic school growing up, and I recall that when a local priest named Monsignor Cassidy visited my eighth-grade theology class he made this very point. True charity, he said, is about “giving from your want.” In other words, giving so much it hurts.

This attitude is being turned on its head. In the new aid industry, giving is increasingly being evaluated not by the goodness of the intentions or the amount of money given but rather by results. Are fewer children stunted? Have more families become self-sustaining? How much good has actually been accomplished and for what cost?

Taken together, these changes are transforming the aid industry from an “old aid” model to a very different “new aid” approach.

Old aid said: give things away for free. New aid says: where it makes sense, give things away for free but do so in a targeted manner. Limit the time duration. Pay attention to market dynamics and the broader systems at play. Work to get local economies going on their own and to get people back to work.

Old aid said: come in from outside with the Big Idea. New aid says: ask local people what’s holding them back. Listen to them. Then provide support for their own ideas, which are usually smaller, more incremental, and more realistic.

Old aid said: development is a project with a budget and a timeline. New aid says: development is a process. Build a business model that is self-sustaining, long-term, and can adapt based on shifting circumstances.

Old aid said: help the victim. New aid says: support the most powerful force for changing a person’s life—him- or herself.

In 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals, a list of seventeen ambitious targets for the world, to be reached by the year 2030. At the top of the list, which was signed by 193 countries including the United States, is ending extreme poverty. Other goals include eliminating hunger, radically improving human health, and reducing inequality and discrimination.

To some, these goals may sound quixotic, hyperbolic, unachievable. Really, in just a decade or so we’re going to eradicate several diseases and end extreme poverty? These are, after all, challenges human beings have faced since the advent of our species. If we follow the approach of the traditional aid industry, the cynics may well be right. Just writing bigger checks for larger aid projects won’t yield the kind of results humans have been waiting millennia to achieve. Even so, the new aid industry has largely taken these goals to heart and is working to eradicate specific diseases, dramatically improve nutrition, transform education and healthcare systems, and make extreme poverty a thing of the past. Could we possibly achieve these goals?

Consider the powerful new technologies and the tremendous wealth created in our time. Entire industries are being transformed before our eyes in what the World Economic Forum has termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Even the way we live day-to-day is changing. The aspiration to drive your own car is diminishing in favor of the convenience of on-demand transportation, which explains why Uber and Tesla are each worth as much as General Motors. More than half of all Americans now get their news from Facebook, a new reality with concerning implications. And something as basic as going to the store is changing as e-commerce infiltrates everyday life. Amazon, with a market capitalization above a trillion dollars, is now more valuable than the next twenty-one American retailers combined, including such massive companies as Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Costco.

Ready or not, a similarly radical transformation is coming to the aid industry. As I will detail in this book, there’s a tidal wave of new actors shaking up the way aid work is done.

Jaha Dukureh ultimately was forced to cross the ocean and marry at fifteen. But she escaped and argued her way into a New York City public high school, even without a parent to consent. Later she settled in Georgia, where she got a college degree, remarried, started a family, and founded a small nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Safe Hands for Girls. It’s not exactly well-resourced or well-known. In one example she shared with me, Dukureh went back to the Gambia and borrowed a car. She drove around the country, attending all of the Gambian president’s speeches and appearances until finally he agreed to meet with her. In 2015, her campaigning led the president to outlaw FGM.

How quickly the aid industry transforms and whether it leads to achieving the global goals will be up to grassroots leaders like Dukureh. It will also be up to aid industry professionals, voters and taxpayers who fund foreign aid, ordinary givers and billionaire philanthropists, corporate and nonprofit leaders, and, ultimately, all people affected by global poverty, pandemics, climate change, and human rights infringements. In other words, it’s going to be up to you.

‘This is not us’

I know everyone is writing about it but it truly deserves as many accolades as it gets.

Performance of the powerful Maori ritual of haka after the terror strike on worshippers in New Zealand’s mosques to me is at once an outpouring of grief and a show of anger. It is a coming together of fury over the violence, the needless deaths, and the will to overpower hate. The haka is a cathartic outpouring with a control that only art forms possess twinned with a resolve of a people committed to togetherness.

It is the healing power within the Maori community extended now to the world. Haka may well be the Maoris’ ceremonial performance for most important events but on this day, it holds special significance.

It brings to the bereaved, it brings to me, a sense of community, a people’s show of solidarity with families unrelated, unconnected, of a different faith, of multiple nationalities, who lost their men and women to a terrorist’s bullets. It is a demonstration of the strength of a community.

Add to this the New Zealand prime minister’s powerful words. “It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us,” said Jacinda Ardern. The rare leader among the developed rich world’s so many, who did not hint “refugees have it coming”.

She said: “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack.”

And that “the person who has committed this violent act has no place here.” The Guardian wrote of her as the leader of ‘solace and steel’. It couldn’t have been better put. That is what a leader is. She brought me solace.

I can’t help compare the people’s reaction with us. Terrorism, jihadist and saffron, is not new to us. Citizens die,  immigrants die, security forces die. We have stopped counting the dead. We are inured to violence. And in a new low, we cheer the idea of revenge. We must not grieve and must only display a primitive bloodthirsty nature.

We wrap up the dead quickly and ruthlessly impose closure on families and friends of the dead with ‘compensation’.

Compensation is to me a dirty word. The cheapest use for money.  The society has become so transactional that we believe a family’s loss, a friend’s emptiness can be best dealt with ‘funds’. Is that the best we can do?

When last did any of our multiple communities show solidarity with anyone’s loss of life?  After the Christchurch attacks, a regular man in Hamburg walked with flowers to a mosque in the neighbourhood, a simple reaching-out.  We’ve so dulled our soul, the simplest of gestures seem so huge. Ardern’s hugs did not take away from the anger in her voice, the fact that this was a first terror attack did not faze the country, it shocked yes, but it looked inward for healing, reached out to the families not among their own.

Next time there is an attack of any sort in our country, I want us to be able to express sorrow not as individuals but as a community. I have used ‘we’ throughout though I speak only for myself. It is my cowardice alone that seeks strength in the anonymous ‘we’. It is also my prayer that there may be enough among us who seek peace and believe in the power of the community. The state must follow.

Blocking the U.S. Out of World Trade

The global economy is being reoriented—away from the United States. A colossal Eurasian supercontinent is forming. From Tokyo to Lisbon, groups of Asian and European nations are hammering out history-altering trade deals and building billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure to better bind themselves together.

With the ideological lines that divided East and West during the Cold War fading away, the links between Asia and Europe are solidifying at hypersonic speed. Latin America, too, is being drawn deeper into the Eurasian orbit.

All of these trends, deals and projects have one common denominator: The United States is excluded.

And this is all happening in fulfillment of specific end-time biblical prophecies.

Rebuilding the Ancient Silk Road

China has taken the lead in working to integrate Eurasia. It is accomplishing this largely with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the brainchild and foremost national priority of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The project was enshrined into the Chinese Constitution in 2017 as part of Xi’s “Chinese Dream.” It aims to rebuild the ancient “Silk Road” network of routes that facilitated the flow of goods and ideas across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Xi has been working to convince nations in those regions to cooperate with China to build roads, rail networks, bridges, ports, pipelines and Internet systems to rebuild and greatly expand those ancient routes. If the Belt and Road Initiative comes together as planned, its infrastructure will connect more than 60 percent of the global population and about 36 percent of total global gross domestic product—to China. And it is all for the purpose of reshaping the international system to place China at the center.

Many countries, especially in poorer parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, immediately signed on. They calculated that accepting Chinese loans and granting China the right to build road, rail and port infrastructure might be risky, but the benefits to their economies would be worth it.

But in Europe, most nations were skeptical. They worried about China’s human rights abuses and deceitful trade practices, including its tendency to steal the intellectual property of foreign investors. Europeans also feared China’s debt trap diplomacy, by which it uses loans to gain leverage over borrowing countries and force them to make concessions they would never make otherwise. They worried about how the expansion of Chinese interests globally sometimes precedes the expansion of Chinese military assets and deployments.

On top of all that, Europe’s historical postwar alignment has been toward the United States. And American leaders view the bri as a dangerous drive for Chinese global hegemony, and often encourage nations in Europe and elsewhere to shun it. These factors combined to darken EU countries’ view of the initiative, and to initially dissuade them from integrating more deeply with China.

But over the years, especially as Europe’s anti-American sentiments grew stronger, some of the less powerful, mostly southern European nations rejected U.S. warnings and joined the Chinese project. And in March a major European power made the extremely significant decision to follow suit.

When in Rome

Italy normally reserves its most lavish welcomes only for close allies. But on March 21, it hosted Xi for a state visit in Rome, including an elaborate, red-carpet reception, state dinner and private concert by an opera megastar. But the highlight of the visit for Xi was Italy’s signing up to the Belt and Road Initiative.

“Xi Jinping’s dream,” Business Insider wrote after the signing, “just claimed one of its biggest victories yet.” The victory was enormous, not just because Chinese ships will be able to easily unload cargo at Italy’s choicest ports, but also because Italy is a member of the G-7. This group of democratically governed, advanced economies also includes Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The G-7 are powerful nations that help shape global policy. Now that one is on the list of Belt and Road participants, other European nations are seriously considering joining.

Quartz noted that Italy’s move was partly motivated by its desire to break with traditional partners, including the U.S., which has been its ally since the founding of NATO 70 years ago. “[An] endorsement for BRI … can signal the likelihood of a country breaking ranks with traditional allies to side with China over politically charged themes,” it wrote (March 19).

Italy’s “signal” of anti-Americanism is sobering. And European, Asian and African countries are not the only ones demonstrating that they are eager to side with China. Alarmingly, it is also happening with more and more countries in the U.S.’s periphery.

Crashing America’s Neighborhood

The Belt and Road infrastructure development initially concentrated on Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the same regions that were linked by the ancient Silk Road. But in 2017, Xi said he views Latin America as a “natural extension” of the project and invited nations there to join. Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Panama, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago have already signed on. More Latin American and Caribbean nations are preparing to follow.

Chinese money has already built a port in Trinidad and Tobago, railways in Argentina, and roads in Costa Rica and Jamaica. As China persuades more Latin American and Caribbean nations to join the project, this region, which is vital to U.S. security, will become increasingly aligned with Beijing and its partners.

And the Belt and Road Initiative is just one of many ways that China and its anti-American partners are deepening their influence in Latin America.

In the case of China’s closest comrade, Russia, the influence is becoming overtly militaristic. In recent months, Russia has modernized Nicaragua’s military, loaned Cuba $43 million for military gear, and said it may build a base there. In Venezuela, Russia has sent soldiers and military gear to prop up the regime of failed dictator Nicolás Maduro, and Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta has reported that Moscow may build a permanent military base there.

Given the proximity of these Latin American nations to the U.S. and to the Caribbean shipping lanes that the U.S. economy depends on, the deepening influence of Russia and China there should be red flags to U.S. policymakers.

The World Is Banking on China

On Jan. 16, 2016, while inaugurating China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Xi told the assembled dignitaries they were witnessing “a historical moment.”

The bank was established mainly to support Belt and Road projects and to advance China’s broader goal of asserting leadership on the world stage. The bank offers nations an alternative to the post-World War ii U.S.-dominated institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is another economic weapon for China to openly challenge American leadership.

Despite U.S. pressure, several of America’s Asian allies and partners joined China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, including the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Several of America’s closest allies outside of Asia—Britain, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and France—also joined.

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers wrote in the lead-up to the Bank’s inauguration: “[T]his … may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.” Summers also stated that America’s failure to persuade allies to stay out of the Chinese initiative is a “wake-up call.”

Luxembourg’s finance minister said in 2016 that the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is “further proof of the rebalancing of the world economy.”

Trade Blocs Blocking Out the U.S.

“[G]overnments have proven eager to move forward with trade negotiations as a way to counter some of the uncertainty in the global trading system today,” John Murphy, senior vice president for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told USA Today last November.

As a result of this push, major new trade blocs are emerging around the globe. The European Union has been especially aggressive. In recent years, it has signed new agreements with Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ukraine and South Korea. In December, Europe announced two deals with Japan: the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement and EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. The latter integrates 635 million people and one third of the world’s GDP, making it the largest trade bloc on the planet. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the deal brings EU-Japan trade and political ties “to a whole new level.”

On April 9, the EU hailed a “breakthrough” in its push for a trade agreement with China. The two sides agreed to dramatically boost their trade volumes, broaden market access, work together on World Trade Organization reform, and for China not to force EU companies operating there into divulging sensitive knowledge. “It is a breakthrough,” said European Council President Donald Tusk. “For the first time, China has agreed to engage with Europe on this key priority for WTO reform.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said of the deals: “Not only will this be conducive to China’s reform and opening up, but also Europe’s unity and prosperity.”

China also recently signed a free-trade agreement with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. This group includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in April that the bloc’s goal—facilitating the free movement of goods, labor and capital in the region—perfectly aligns with the aims of the Belt and Road Initiative. Putin said the Eurasian Economic Union member countries “unanimously supported the idea of linking the construction of the Eurasian Economic Community” and the Belt and Road.

Meanwhile, in December, the Japan-led Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership came into effect. This deal includes Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, Peru and Malaysia. The 500 million people living in these nations, constituting 13.4 percent of the global economy, can now trade nearly tariff-free.

And all the while, the EU has been frantically working toward a landmark free-trade deal with the Latin American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. “This trade agreement will impact the whole worldThese agreements are fundamentally altering the world economy. And they all have one thing in common: They exclude the U.S.The anti-American sentiments that helped shape these trade deals predate the Trump administration, but his leadership has intensified such feelings.

In the case of some of the agreements, America chose not to participate. Nevertheless, the trend is undeniable: More and more nations are forging massive economic alliances—and America is out.

Many of these history-altering trade deals have been under negotiation for years. And now they are suddenly becoming reality. “Analysts attribute that to the Trump administration’s policies,” (USA Today, op cit). In reality, the anti-American sentiments that helped shape these trade deals predate the Trump administration, but his leadership has intensified such feelings and made more world leaders feel urgent about acting on them.

The Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the multiplying number of U.S.-excluding trade blocs are reorienting the world economy—to the detriment of the United States.

For decades, American and British leadership stabilized much of the world and advanced civilization. But now the reins of world power will be taken up by two groups: one of these will be led by Germany, and the other by Russia and China.

To see China, Europe and these other powers linked in end-time Bible prophecies—and then to see the Belt and Road Initiative, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and numerous trade blocs linking them economically today—is astonishing. 

Mountains Matter More Than We Think

We talk of oceans and rivers, we talk of forests and water bodies, but we rarely refer to the mountains, although their importance can never be minimised. Mountains have long held a certain mystique for those living in their shadows.

From the Mayans and Greeks to Japan’s Shinto religion, mountain gods appear in cultures and belief systems throughout history and around the world.

They’re also loved for their beauty, and revered for the great physical challenge they present to those attempting to scale them.

But one aspect of mountains is often overlooked: their power as a water, food and energy supply. In fact, more than half the world’s population benefits in some way from their resources.

They are a fragile ecosystem: habitats for plants and wildlife are particularly susceptible to climate variations, and are being disrupted, while glaciers are melting with accelerating pace.

Meanwhile, as humans venture further and higher for recreation and resources, habitats are being destroyed and degraded. Rare plants and animals are living in diminishing areas, and mountain people – often among the world’s poorest – are facing increasing hardships in what many scientists believe is a preview of what is to come for lowland areas.

Here are 5 reasons why we need to celebrate our peaks:

1. Thirteen percent of the world’s population lives in the mountains. As well as providing resources and sustenance for 915 million mountain-dwelling people – 90% of which are in developing countries and 1 in 3 of which is food insecure – there are indirect benefits for billions more people.

2. Many mountains have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and biosphere reserves, recognising they play a key role in sustainable development and conservation of biodiversity. Mountains host 25% of the world’s biodiversity on land, and are home to highly specialised species that wouldn’t survive elsewhere.

3. Maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, quinoa, tomatoes and apples – six of the 20 plant species that supply most of the world’s food – originated in mountain areas. Many high-value and high-quality foods are also produced by mountain communities, such as coffee, cocoa, honey, herbs and spices, improving livelihoods and boosting local economies.

4. Almost a third of the world’s forests can be found in mountainous regions, containing a diverse range of specialised trees that can’t survive in the lower reaches. As well as providing a home and supporting unique ecosystems, these trees play a vital role in regulating the regional climate. Absorbing huge quantities of rainwater, they are also crucial to preventing erosion, landslides and rockfalls.

5. The majority of the world’s fresh water comes from mountains: cities including Melbourne, Nairobi, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo are dependant on mountains for fresh water. This water is also vital in the production of hydropower. Some countries rely almost exclusively on mountain regions for hydropower generation.

Let The West Beware of The Triumvirate That Matters

Leaders of Asia’s three largest nations are increasing their meetings, joining their nations, and becoming the challengers to the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have planned a series of meetings with each other to occur throughout the year in order to enhance relationships between Asia’s three largest nations.

The leaders held their second trilateral summit last year on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, where they agreed to meet again and discuss ways to strengthen their collaboration through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the East Asia Summit and brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). After the summit, Modi commented on the “excellent meeting of the ric (Russia, India, China) Trilateral,” saying, “President Putin, President Xi Jinping and I discussed a wide range of subjects that would further cement the friendship between our nations and enhance world peace.”

Days after Prime Minister Modi won a resounding reelection, his administration announced a second informal summit to be held between Modi and Xi, possibly on October 11. The meetings will likely continue the progress made at their first informal summit in Wuhan last year, which aimed to normalize relations between them.

The meeting will allow the two leaders to discuss recent developments such as how their trading relationship is affected by the United States-China trade war. China could possibly offset damages from the trade war by tapping into India’s huge economy. With its rising unemployment and weak consumer market, India would benefit from Chinese investments.

In a goodwill gesture to India, China stopped vetoing a United Nations proposal to label Pakistan’s Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” on May 1 and instead approved the decision. “It should be seen as a positive outcome of the two countries’ ties,” Sana Hashmi, an analyst in the Australian think tank Future Directions, told the South China Morning Post. “China’s decision is a result of the understanding the two reached thanks to their ongoing dialogue, especially since the Wuhan summit.”

Xi visited Russia from June 5 to 7 and met with President Putin. Xi received an honorary doctorate from St. Petersburg State University. The leaders were expected to sign 30 trade, energy, investment and security agreements. Prior to the visit, Xi called Putin “my best and bosom friend.”

This was Xi’s second meeting with Putin in two months. Putin visited Beijing in April and increased Russia’s support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The meeting also marked Xi’s first trip overseas after trade talks with the U.S. fell apart this month. Due to the trade conflict, China has greater motivation to seek economic and political support from Russia.

Xi and Putin were expected to discuss their nations’ bilateral trade in the visit. Russia and China have increased their bilateral trade by almost 25 percent to a record high of $108 billion per year. Russia is now the biggest supplier of Chinese energy. Both nations aim to reach $200 billion in bilateral trade by 2024.

From June 13 to 14, Xi, Putin and Modi are expected to meet at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyztan, focusing on trade, investment, connectivity and security cooperation.

This conglomerate will form an army of 200 million men. It would be impossible for the West to assemble an army this size, should such a need arise. Yet consider the numbers. The current population in China is over 1.3 billion. Russia has 144 million. Other Asian nations likely to join this alliance—among them, India, with its 1.2 billion people and third-largest army in the world.

There will easily be a total approaching 4 billion people from which to make up an army of 200 million! … Now, to muster an army of 200 million men, these Asiatic masses would likely only have to call upon a small fraction of their combined populations to fight this battle—hardly unrealistic.

With Putin, Xi and Modi’s upcoming meetings with each other, and with such organizations as BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, East Asian Summit and the G-20 summits bringing them closer together, the stage is being set for these vastly populated nations to coalesce.

A celebration of classic poetry

British playwright, novelist, and short story writer W. Somerset Maugham once said, “The crown of literature is poetry. It is the end and aim. It is the sublimest activity of the human mind. It is the achievement of beauty.”

And that beauty isn’t new. Poets have been instilling beauty into their work for years. Poetry remains relevant because poets have always been ahead of their time, inspiring generations after them. Below is a compilation of some of my personal favourite classic poems that still remain relevant today:

“Ulysses” by Sir Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Written in 1833 and published in the year 1842, “Ulysses” by Sir Alfred, Lord Tennyson is about loss, the acceptance of it, and having the courage to embark on new adventures even after loss. Tennyson wrote this beautiful piece after the sudden death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam who was barely 22 years old when he passed away. Many say that this was his attempt of coping with the loss of his friend.

“Ulysses” is inspired and based on the character of a Greek king and soldier who is also known as Odysseus. Written in a dramatic monologue structure, “Ulysses” is a masterpiece that has inspired generations through centuries to try something new, take on a new adventure and never give up on life. Some of my favourite lines from this poem are:

’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost

Written in 1914, “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost is a classic poem in blank verse that involves two rural neighbors who one day meet while walking along the wall between their properties and repairing it where needed. The progressive speaker of the poem questions the need for the wall while the traditionalist neighbour seems to have little time for such nonsense. This poem has remained relevant over the years questioning individualism and selfishness. It could not be more relevant at this point of time given the international dialogue on “building a wall” that has been going on for the last few years.

In “Mending Wall,” Frost argues that building a wall is not necessarily a straightforward idea. It made sense when people built walls to protect livestock, but look how the evolution of walls has separated people from people, families from families, communities from communities and so on. Here’s an excerpt of the poem:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was only 17 when he wrote this poem while he was on a train ride to Mexico visiting his father. The poem encapsulates the struggles of people of colour in America. It is an ode to the proud history of black people and a homage to each leader who took a stand and spoke up against racism and hatred.

Written in a time of racial intolerance and injustice, this poem made Hughes an unofficial laureate of the great Harlem Renaissance, a movement that brought artists from the black community together as one to be vocal against discrimination on the basis of race, colour, and creed. As a proud woman of colour and a strong believer of equality and justice in the society, I find this classic poem close to my heart.

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

One common thread that is found in most classic poems is that they are all based on the simple yet significant philosophies of life. They can simplify worldly affairs and show paths of compassion, love, justice, humility, and positivity. I think this is the reason that classic poetry still remains relevant and loved across the world.

Keynesian Economics & Government Debt

John Maynard Keynes, the British economist whose theories dominated the industrial postwar West, argued for government spending as a means to counteract slow economic growth. Especially during a recovery from a recession or depression, he reasoned, private demand is insufficient, so extra spending by government is needed to ensure that aggregate demand remains high enough to maintain full employment. But what would Keynes have made of the debate over governments borrowing to invest in times outside acute crises or recession?

The cash hoarding that he predicted is evident in the post-crisis economy.

Since Keynes believed that the normal tendency was for the propensity to save to be stronger than the incentive to invest, he was supportive of governments borrowing to invest. He believed the economy usually operated below its potential, and that public investment should therefore supplement private investment.

His idea was to use fiscal policy to maintain a high level of public or semi-public investment. Investment should encourage consumption by raising the overall level of output, and thus raising income. The more consumption there was, the higher the national income, and therefore the greater the savings of the society that could be used to finance investment. A permanently high level of publicly directed investment would offset fluctuations in private investment, and contribute to the economy remaining in a “quasi-boom”.

Keynes expected the government to take on a greater role in investment as the need became clearer. His notion of “socializing investment” may well encompass a government-backed infrastructure bank or fund to help get projects off the ground. He might not have viewed private sector participation as necessary, but would have been willing to include private investors who would pool their money with the government to build infrastructure.

The suspicion that this policy would lead to persistent budget deficits was one of the criticisms of Keynes. It’s why governments have historically been reluctant to borrow to invest: they fear that bond investors will ask for higher returns to lend them money, increasing the borrowing costs for a country, which could in turn jeopardize its economic growth.

The verdict on Keynes’s vision today is far from settled. The Chicago school of monetarists say that his counter-cyclical policies are bound to fail since their effects will be anticipated, either immediately or after a short lag. The influential Harvard economist Robert Barro argues that future tax rises to pay for government deficit spending are figured into long-term interest rates by investors and savers. This process will lead to higher rates in the future and make government borrowing more expensive and the budget deficit less affordable.

The view can be traced all the way back to the 19th-century British economist David Ricardo. Under Ricardian equivalence, rational people know that the government debt will have to be repaid at some point in the form of higher taxes, so they save in anticipation and do not increase current consumption that boosts growth.

Still, the perceived need to increase investment and economic growth during our current struggles has shifted the public debate closer to what Keynes advocated even during non-crisis times. There is also a growing inclination to separate capital from current spending in government accounts, so that investment doesn’t count the same as day-to-day public spending.

Given the debate over low investment, the record low borrowing costs and our concerns over growth, Keynes’s lesser-known views on public investment could have a greater impact on the structure of an economy than his better-known arguments about government deficit spending.

Despite Being a Massive Minority on Earth, the Humans Don’t Act Like One

Most of us, including scientists, are blind to the full scope of the living world. This was illustrated by an informal survey which asked biologists and ecologists from elite universities two questions. In terms of mass, is the living world mostly composed of animals, plants or bacteria? And is there more global biomass on land or in the oceans? The majority of them answered both questions incorrectly.

In an age of unparalleled access to information, this is a glaring gap in our knowledge. We are now equipped to close it Some scholars from the Weizmann Institute in Israel and the California Institute of Technology undertook to estimate the biomass of all kingdoms of life on Earth. The results were published in the Journal of the American National Academy of Sciences, and were widely (and more digestibly) covered by the popular press.

It required years of work, collecting and integrating information from hundreds of previous studies.  they documented every step in full detail and deposited it as open-source information for anyone to examine and explore.

The results exemplify the phenomenon known as plant blindness. Even though plants constitute the majority of global biomass – 80-90% by our calculations – many people consistently underestimate them. When asked, most biologists guess that there is more bacterial or fungal biomass. In fact, these are runners-up by a long way. The entire animal kingdom is only about 0.5%.

Furthermore, while stunning documentaries such as the BBC’s Blue Planet help us appreciate the enormous ecosystems of the oceans, they found that there is about 80 times more living mass on land than in all the oceans combined.

Humans account for only about 0.01% of the planet’s biomass. That’s less than mollusks, viruses, and segmented worms, among others.

Finally, the results now put us in a position to reveal the global ecological role played by humanity. In terms of mass, we are a tiny minority. Humans account for only about 0.01% of the planet’s biomass. This is a fraction that would in other contexts be discounted as a rounding error. But the role of this minority cannot be ignored; our impact is immense. Since the appearance of humanity several thousand years ago, the living mass of the world has been halved, largely as a consequence of deforestation to make space for agriculture and pastureland.

These numbers give us a new appreciation of not only how humanity has historically depleted living biomass in the past, but of how we have recently transformed that which remains. During the last few centuries, the overall biomass of wild mammals has declined several-fold. Today, the mass of domesticated mammals is twenty-fold higher than that of all wild mammals. The jigsaw puzzle that I put together shows a giraffe next to an elephant and a rhino, an exotic image of the wild biomass on earth. If I were to reluctantly revisit this image in light of current biomass abundances, there should be a cow next to a cow next to another cow and then a pig, a rather less exciting picture.

The exact proportions vary by region. For instance, Southeast Asia has more pigs, while South America has more cows. But with the exception of Antarctica, domesticated mammals vastly outweigh wild mammals on every continent – even Africa with its half a million elephants. The biomass of birds has also been vastly reshaped. The mass of domesticated birds, mostly chickens, is now twice that of all wild birds combined.

The massive transformation enacted by humanity is also why our geological era, which is akin to the operating system on which the living world depends, recently had its name updated to the “anthropocene” – the age of humanity. So what is the path forward? The necessary solutions for ensuring that our children enjoy healthy and abundant natural habitats are not simple. Many require changing what we eat and how we produce it, since agricultural land use is the dominant driver of deforestation and the diminishing populations in the animal kingdom.

But one thing is certain. For humanity to head in the right direction, we must take a closer look at what is around us. We cannot count on the blind leading the blind. We must pay attention and follow the light provided by the careful study of numbers.

The Importance of the Story of Karana

Karna, a warrior seen by many with an empathetic view who suffered from all possible misfortunes and was disgraced at every possible doorstep of his life is an epitome of what persistent efforts can win for a person. He is not bound by the clutches of time and people still wonder whether he was better than Arjuna himself?

Abandoned at an early age by his mother due to societal pressure and being brought up by a family of chariot driver, he felt the heat of the society whenever he attempted to desire beyond his social limitations. Despite his talent and hard work, he failed to gain teachings of archery from great scholars of that time and was rather humiliated by the society. His identity of belonging to the lower class confronted him and even the likes of as great as Dronacharya refused to guide him questioning his caste. Pandavas, the most celebrated righteous beings of that Yuga degraded him over his social backwardness. Therefore, just to prove his abilities and to fight back against the discrimination, he single-handedly attempted to go against the prominent sectional divide of that period and acquired knowledge with utmost dedication ensuring that he is cherished by the society as the best archer to ever walk over the planet. His biggest competitor in this desire was Arjuna, a much-celebrated warrior of his time. In order to prove himself the best, Karna attempts to confront and challenge Arjuna at every possible event and gradually his desire of embracing the knowledge of archery is being overshadowed by his sick desire of winning against Arjuna and proving the world about his own abilities.

Karna is an ideal example of what we witness even today i.e. division and oppression based on birth rather than abilities. For this reason itself, his dedication and the resulting skills are celebrated and often quoted as an example of what all a person can achieve by his sheer dedication. His journey clearly illustrates that dedication and hard work pave the way for the greatest talents to excel. But while learning from the example of this fierce warrior and a generous ruler, we often question Krishna’s action of advising Arjuna to attack weaponless Karna as against the norms of the war.

Yes, Karna did evil by siding with Duryodhan but wasn’t he bound of his dharma of friendship? Wasn’t Krishna too harsh on Karna? Wasn’t Karna better than Arjuna? Was he just a victim of circumstances?

It is often hard to believe that how a person so generous, who even donated his Godly armour, who kept the promise of not killing the 4 Pandavas except Arjuna, who worked persistently despite all suffering be punished through deception? How could anyone possibly term him evil? His loyalty for Duryodhan was because of the latter’s acceptance of him despite his class inferiority. Then how could he leave Duryodhan’s side when the war was on and join hands with Pandavas? Surely, he knew the truth about his birth by then but abandoning a friend at such a crucial time would’nt be Adharma itself?

Karna had similar questions in his mind. Lord Krishna beautifully answers these questions and poses some from his end as well for all of us to ponder upon. It is true that Duryodhan did accept Karna despite his lower class but was that his generosity or was he just trying to strengthen his side by calling in Karna? Had Duryodhan been so kind- hearted, he would have alleviated the weaker sections of the society under his rule. He would have allowed them the right to education. He would have questioned the archaic system of allocation of caste based on birth and would have attempted to revamp it for a greater good but obviously, he didn’t because he too was guided by a parochial mindset. It was his desperation to win against the Pandavas that he was oblivion to Karna’s social backwardness. Karna too was equally responsible here. He had been a first-hand victim of caste and class-based oppression and yet once his position in the society grew, he forgot about his own kind and indulged himself in petty politics (even though reluctantly) and became desperate to compete with Arjuna. His learning wasn’t utilized for societal well- being and he restricted himself narrowly to prove his superiority. It was his myopic desires that made him sign in for the war and it was only because of his indubitable support that Duryodhan actually initiated a war.

Yes, the life of Karna was full of struggle and repeated insults and it is true that he deserves all the respect for what all he achieved but he was arrogant and ignorant at times and despite repeated requests by Lord Krishna and his own mother Kunti he refused to leave the side of evil Kauravas. His death is surely a big tragic event in the epic of Mahabharata but it also leaves us with a learning that we all have heard about, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. Dharma in its right spirit doesn’t refer to religion, a term which we often misinterpret it with. It refers to righteousness and the ability to differentiate whether we seek revenge or we seek justice forms this fine line of Dharma. Karna obviously failed to identify this line.

Karna, an abandoned child of Kunti is brought up by a Suta (a charioteer) and despite his unparalleled attempts to raise his social status in the society, he is disgraced at every step. A disheartened Karna, eager to earn societal respect joins hands with the evil Duryodhana and in an attempt to challenge the social complexities of that era, loses his own conscience. Due to his association with the Adharma, the revered warrior and a generous leader dies at the hands of Arjuna on Krishna’s advice. Though his struggle and generosity is still celebrated in the mythology, the greater question is, ‘Is it just a tale to be intrigued with or a lesson to be learnt from?’

History: The truth often lies

Essayist and novelist George Santayana famously said that history is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there. Napoléon Bonaparte remarked that history is a set of lies that have been agreed upon. Winston Churchill famously said that history is what is written by the victors. Thus, you cannot blame me for believing that history is just a version of events and readers of history tend to accept what suits their own sensibilities.

For example, there are those who are convinced that a massive Aryan migration happened into the Indian subcontinent and that Sanskrit and the Vedas are a product of that migration. On the other side are those who believe that the migration happened in reverse carrying Indic culture to other parts of the world.

There are those who argue that Aurangzeb was not really a despot and that much of the anti-Hindu actions attributed to him were exaggerated. On the other side are those who believe that he was a religious bigot who destroyed many Hindu temples in his ferocious zeal to Islamize India.

There are readers who believe that the most glorious period in Indian history was the Mughal Empire. But there are others who argue that the Satavahana, Vijayanagar or Chola empires were no less but have simply been ignored.

Many see the struggle for Indian independence as a non-violent movement that bore fruit owing to Gandhi’s efforts. But equally, there are those who believe that Indian independence would never have been won had it not been for Subhas Chandra Bose and the lurking possibility of a military mutiny.

There are those for whom Nehru is a hero who ensured a vibrant democracy in India. There are others though who see Nehru as the man who bungled Kashmir, lost Tibet, lost the China war and gave up the offer of a seat on the UN Security Council. These people tend to see Patel as the real hero.

There are those who say that history should be written based on “evidence” but does our present history meet that test? For example, our narrative on the great statesman Chanakya is based on a Sanskrit play, Mudrarakshasa, that was written by Vishakhadatta almost seven hundred years after Chanakya. How much of that was fact or fiction we cannot tell, but that is now taken at face value as our de facto history. Similarly dodgy is the romantic notion that Emperor Ashoka renounced war and became an ambassador of peace after witnessing the horrors of the Kalinga war. The Ashokavadana talks about killings of Jains and Ajivikas well after Ashoka’s renouncing violence.

We would be fooling ourselves if we think that history is ever free of personal opinions, biases or prejudices. How else does one explain the fact that what is taught as “The Great Rebellion of 1857” in India is taught as “The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857” in England?

The bigger question that we must ask ourselves is this: should anyone have the absolute, unfettered and unchallenged right to write our history given these inherent biases? The only way that history can be meaningful is if we present several points of view and see the “truth” as something that lies between those multiple perspectives. As is oft said, there are three versions to any story: mine, yours and the truth.

It’s about time that leftist historians (who are accused of presenting a Western-inspired view that everything meaningful came to India from outside) and right-leaning historians (who are accused of connecting everything meaningful to a glorious ancient Bharat) must both realize that their version is precisely that—a version. This is a land that has produced 300 versions of the Ramayana, same event but multiple perspectives. Isn’t it time to let multiple narratives flourish? Wouldn’t that be the best way to ensure that the less rigorously researched perspectives would eventually falter?

So where lies the truth? Read that question carefully. Yes, the truth often lies. Probably the best answer to that question is couched in another question. One that was asked by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate when asked to decide the fate of Christ. “What is truth?” asked Pilate.

.

Sunday Special: Your Own Decisions Beyond Your Control

Everyone knows what it feels like to have consciousness: it’s that self-evident sense of personal awareness, which gives us a feeling of ownership and control over the thoughts, emotions and experiences that we have every day.

Most experts think that consciousness can be divided into two parts: the experience of consciousness (or personal awareness), and the contents of consciousness, which include things such as thoughts, beliefs, sensations, perceptions, intentions, memories and emotions.

It’s easy to assume that these contents of consciousness are somehow chosen, caused or controlled by our personal awareness – after all, thoughts don’t exist until until we think them. But in a new research paper in Frontiers of Psychology, we argue that this is a mistake.

We suggest that our personal awareness does not create, cause or choose our beliefs, feelings or perceptions. Instead, the contents of consciousness are generated “behind the scenes” by fast, efficient, non-conscious systems in our brains. All this happens without any interference from our personal awareness, which sits passively in the passenger seat while these processes occur.

Put simply, we don’t consciously choose our thoughts or our feelings – we become aware of them.

Not just a suggestion

If this sounds strange, consider how effortlessly we regain consciousness each morning after losing it the night before; how thoughts and emotions – welcome or otherwise – arrive already formed in our minds; how the colours and shapes we see are constructed into meaningful objects or memorable faces without any effort or input from our conscious mind.

Consider that all the neuropsychological processes responsible for moving your body or using words to form sentences take place without involving your personal awareness. We believe that the processes responsible for generating the contents of consciousness do the same.

Our thinking has been influenced by research into neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric disorders, as well as more recent cognitive neuroscience studies using hypnosis. The studies using hypnosis show that a person’s mood, thoughts and perceptions can be profoundly altered by suggestion.

In such studies, participants go through a hypnosis induction procedure, to help them to enter a mentally focused and absorbed state. Then, suggestions are made to change their perceptions and experiences.

For example, in one study, researchers recorded the brain activity of participants when they raised their arm intentionally, when it was lifted by a pulley, and when it moved in response to a hypnotic suggestion that it was being lifted by a pulley.

Similar areas of the brain were active during the involuntary and the suggested “alien” movement, while brain activity for the intentional action was different. So, hypnotic suggestion can be seen as a means of communicating an idea or belief that, when accepted, has the power to alter a person’s perceptions or behaviour.

The personal narrative

All this may leave one wondering where our thoughts, emotions and perceptions actually come from. We argue that the contents of consciousness are a subset of the experiences, emotions, thoughts and beliefs that are generated by non-conscious processes within our brains.

This subset takes the form of a personal narrative, which is constantly being updated. The personal narrative exists in parallel with our personal awareness, but the latter has no influence over the former.

The personal narrative is important because it provides information to be stored in your autobiographical memory (the story you tell yourself, about yourself), and gives human beings a way of communicating the things we have perceived and experienced to others.

This, in turn, allows us to generate survival strategies; for example, by learning to predict other people’s behaviour. Interpersonal skills like this underpin the development of social and cultural structures, which have promoted the survival of human kind for millennia.

So, we argue that it is the ability to communicate the contents of one’s personal narrative –– and not personal awareness – that gives humans their unique evolutionary advantage.

What’s the point?

If the experience of consciousness does not confer any particular advantage, it’s not clear what its purpose is. But as a passive accompaniment to non-conscious processes, we don’t think that the phenomenon of personal awareness has a purpose, in much the same way that rainbows do not. Rainbows simply result from the reflection, refraction and dispersion of sunlight through water droplets – none of which serves any particular purpose.

Our conclusions also raise questions about the notions of free will and personal responsibility. If our personal awareness does not control the contents of the personal narrative which reflects our thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions and decisions, then perhaps we should not be held responsible for them.

In response to this, we argue that free will and personal responsibility are notions that have been constructed by society. As such, they are built into the way we see and understand ourselves as individuals, and as a species. Because of this, they are represented within the non-conscious processes that create our personal narratives, and in the way we communicate those narratives to others.

Just because consciousness has been placed in the passenger seat, does not mean we need to dispense with important everyday notions such as free will and personal responsibility. In fact, they are embedded in the workings of our non-conscious brain systems. They have a powerful purpose in society and have a deep impact on the way we understand ourselves.

5 leadership lessons I learned from doing my own ‘undercover boss’

When was the last time you saw your CEO or vice president shadow the call centre or the factory floor? When was the last time your managing director came up to talk to employees about their needs and pain points in the workplace?

The answer for most employees is never. There are employees who never see their executives over an entire career, save on the internal website or the latest organisational chart. The corporate hierarchy today creates executives who focus upwards rather than leaders who focus on building the foundations of their business.

In the new digital age, where speed, client focus, employee retention, humility and empathy are key leadership qualities, one of the most important activities an executive an carry out is to ‘shadow’ his or her staff.

One of my favourite TV shows in the US is called Undercover Boss, in which senior executives, typically CEOs or presidents, don a disguise and join the lower ranks of the company they lead. It typically ends with a big reveal, in which the boss loses the costume and shares the lessons they learned during the experience.

When I was studying, one of the key lessons was to always keep your ears to the ground as a company founder or executive. When I went on to run a small company, I knew every employee, oversaw every hire myself and even knew the security guards’ names by heart. But when I moved on to larger Fortune 500 companies, it no longer felt practical to be that close to the ground; after all, it was a job that could be delegated.

At least, that’s what I thought.

In my first month at a Fortune 500 company, where I’d taken a job as managing director of digital transformation, I asked a senior colleague what might be the best way to learn the business, the people and the culture. His advice was to shadow our operations and call centres. So I spent the best part of a week going to different teams and sitting side by side with staff. There, I learned some of the most important leadership lessons of my career.

Here are my top five.

1. The power of ideas. Staff have a lot of suggestions for improvement, since they are closest to the customer. They often understand where the business’s real pressure points lie and can help you make their own work more efficient.

2. Keeping your ear close to the customers. Listening to calls, queries and feedback from customers gives you a useful perspective on the needs of your market, whether simple or complicated, and it uncovers opportunities for improvement.

3. You reputation is only as good as your customer service. You will learn to appreciate the unsung heroics of your staff, as they make sure that your clients are taken care of no matter what. In the world of artificial intelligence and automation, care and empathy is what will differentiate your company’s reputation.

4. Translate executive speak. Students of MBAs learn to speak in a different language, using words that sound smart but are meaningless to most. If you want to create massive change, people have to understand your message.

5. Being a leader means taking care of people. The most valuable asset of any business is its employees, and the first priority of a leader is to make sure that the future of your staff and their families are taken care of, so that they can focus on taking care of the clients for you.

Since then, I have gone “undercover” twice more. Each time, I learn an increasing amount about the people and the culture of our business and its digital transformation.

My question to you right now, as a leader in your own company or country, is this. When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone and went among the people who work for you? Are you ready to listen and watch with empathy as jobs and workplaces are transformed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – or will you be left behind with old-world hierarchical thinking? The choice is yours.

Mitigate Conflict in Middle East and North Africa by Protecting Arab Women’s Rights

 A pertinent session at the ongoing Women Deliver Conference 2019 focussed on the challenges faced by women in the Arab world. Hosted by UNFPA Arab States Regional Office, the session delved into the double discrimination that women in the Arab world often have to put up with. The reason for this double discrimination is the fact that much of the Middle East and North Africa region is in conflict. And conflict situations are particularly hard on women given that they engender shortages of everything from security to food supplies.

Here are some shocking statistics. Globally, around 136 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance of which 36 million are women. Of the latter 40% are from Arab states. Plus, research has shown that the fragility of a state is directly proportional to maternal mortality, adolescent pregnancy and child marriage. All of these are rampant in conflict- ridden or conflict-affected Arab states. This reality compelled one of the speakers of the session, Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, to comment that women in the Arab world are superwomen because of the extreme hardships they have to endure.

It is a sad fact that the largest number of refugees is in Muslim states. This in turn sees these countries having some of the highest rates of still-born births and maternal mortality. Add to all of this the deeply conservative attitudes towards women in many parts of the Arab world. This stems from the influence of Wahhabism on the strength of petro-dollars over the last 50 years. The conservative interpretation of Islam and its influence over Sunni populations meant that women in these societies came to be seen as inferior to men. And from this flowed diminishing rights of Arab women in terms of inheritance, property, marriage and free choice.

In this grave context, sexual reproductive health rights of Arab women are given short shrift. Abortion is not even a serious conversation because choice for many Arab women remains elusive. And when conflict starts defining Arab states, like what is happening to Libya or Syria, women’s rights get pushed to the back burner. For the world and policymakers, identifying the double discrimination faced by Arab women in conflict situations becomes difficult.

But this must never be and that’s why the conference session was named ‘A Woman Even Here’. In fact, focussing on the plight of Arab women in fragile states is a good way to mitigate the conflicts themselves. For, when you start thinking about what these distressed women need in terms of sexual reproductive health rights, bodily security, food, psychological assistance, etc and start working towards providing those, you immediately create situations that mitigate the conflict.

I know that given the complexity of the conflicts in the Arab world solutions are not easy. But the women’s empowerment movement should not forget the plight of our Arab sisters who are perhaps the most discriminated among women given the double whammy of conflict and social conservatism. Protecting Arab women’s rights is a key to mitigating conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.

Saturday Special: Learning by Doing is The Future of Education

This idea of learning by doing is what is now called “experiential learning,” and though it’s demanding, it is also very effective. 

The university experience has changed. It used to be enough for students to spend four years working hard on assignments, labs and exams to earn a useful undergraduate degree that signalled competence and was redeemable for a good job.

Employers would spend weeks or months training their newly hired graduates, sometimes in cohorts, shaping their broad knowledge so it could be applied to the specific needs of the company or government agency.

Today, in contrast, employers want fresh graduates who they don’t have to train. That means students must learn and apply their knowledge at the same time, inside and outside the classroom, all without adding extra months or years to their studies. After completing their degrees, they are expected to be ready to compete for jobs and jump into working life immediately, without further training.

In the ongoing global drive for efficiency and competitiveness, education and training are now seen as the responsibility of the post-secondary sector, where students face a wider set of expectations not only to learn and synthesize subject matter, but to adapt it and put it to use almost immediately.

Learning by doing

This idea of learning by doing is what is now called “experiential learning,” and though it’s demanding, it is also very effective. It is vital to the mission of all advanced institutions of higher learning, including the one where I am dean of engineering, McMaster University in Hamilton.

In class, this method of learning means replacing chalk-and-talk pedagogy of the past with inquiry, problem-based and project-based learning, sometimes using the tools of what we call a maker space — an open, studio-like creative workshop.

These methods recognize that lectures on complex, abstract subjects are difficult to comprehend, and that hands-on, minds-on learning by experience not only makes it easier to absorb complex material, it also makes it easier to remember.

Outside class, experiential learning takes the form of clubs, activities and competitions for fun, such as the international EcoCAR competition, converting muscle cars from gas to electric power, or hackathons that see students compete to solve complex technical and social problems.This year at McMaster, experiential learning has been both the competition and the prize as six winners of an extracurricular Big Ideas competition flew off to tour Silicon Valley facilities where they hope one day to work or learn how to start up their own ventures.

Experiential learning also means engaging undergraduates directly in high-level research that was once the exclusive domain of graduate students and professors, exposing them to scholarship at the highest level from early in their academic careers.

In the community, experiential learning is learning through service, both within and beyond one’s area of study — rebuilding hurricane-damaged communities, for example, or helping at local soup kitchens. We are teaching students not only to be workers who drive the modern economy, but also to be engaged citizens.

Work-integrated learning sees students stepping into the actual workplace to get a flavour of what working life is like in their fields, including managing time, working independently, multi-tasking, and adapting to the particular culture and expectations of a specific workplace, all as part of their formal education.

We want students to understand and approach the grand challenges and wicked problems facing our world, such as climate change and opioid addiction, which are not solely issues of science or technology, sociology or economics, but complex, layered issues that demand broad thinking and collaboration.

Canada needs innovators

We want our students to be innovators. If life in Canada is to improve, especially in the context of challenging trade relationships such as NAFTA, we need a workforce that can address global problems with innovation that is relevant —technologically, socially, economically, with respect for all cultures and genders.

All of this learning drives students to begin thinking and acting with their careers in mind from their very first year of study.

Is that fair?

It is important to remember that high school has changed too. Students are better prepared than they were a generation ago. By the time they enter university, they are more aware of the new demands on their time and achievements.

Much more information is also available about employment and specific employers from portals like Glassdoor, allowing students to make more informed choices about their co-op placements or the permanent employers they will target or reject, based on reputation and organizational climate.

We cannot change the fact that the world is more competitive, nor that it takes more to succeed than it used to.

What we can do is make sure that the extra work that goes into creating and completing a fully realized university experience is as valuable as it can possibly be.

An Alternate View of Hindu Nationalism

While BJP trumpets Hindu nationalism in its election campaign, the question, ‘Who are we?’ has been answered brilliantly by Tony Joseph in a new book, Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From. Elucidating new genetic studies that have revolutionised our ability to trace ancestry, Joseph shows that all races across the world originated in Africa. We are all Africans of a sort, some of whom entered India directly, and some indirectly.

India is not a country of original Aryan Hindus invaded by Muslims, as portrayed by some RSS historians. Primitive ape-like proto-humans lived in India over 100,000 years ago. But the land’s first Homo sapiens came from Africa 65,000 years ago, and spread gradually. The proto-humans lost ground and eventually became extinct.

From Tourist to Immigrant
Another out-of-Africa branch that had settled in the Zagros Mountains of Iran entered India 7,000 years ago. It brought agricultural techniques that helped create the great Harappan civilisation. This developed major cities, the Indus Valley script and Dravidian languages.

The Harappan civilisation stretched across 1 million sq km, one-third the size of modern India. It was far larger in population and area than the more famous ancient civilisations of Egypt or Mesopotamia. We Indians should be boasting about this as our greatest, most globally dominant era. Alas, we have been unable to translate the Indus Valley script, and so lack detailed knowledge of those times.

Droughts and earthquakes changed the course of the Saraswati river on which many Harappan cities had been established. This ultimately ended the Harappan civilisation.

Waves of new migrants from the Central Asian steppes arrived between 2000 BC and 1000 BC. They called themselves Aryans. They were a mix of several out-of-Africa groups that had once resided in Mongolia and Europe. They brought early versions of Sanskrit and Vedic beliefs, and mixed intensively with the existing people of north India to produce the Ancient North Indians. They mixed much less with those in the south. Yet, all these groups originated in the out-of-Africa migration, and so were distant cousins. Later immigrants included Tibetan-Burmese and Austro-Asiatic groups from the east. Much later came a succession of immigrants through the Khyber Pass: Greeks, Huns, Sakas, Uzbeks (later called ‘Mughals’) and finally Europeans. Joseph compares India with a pizza having original Africans as its base, a sauce from Iran that helped create Harappans, and toppings from the Asian steppes and other parts of the world.

All Hindu castes, dalits and tribals have a mix of original African, Harappan and Steppe genes. Caste is a recent social invention, reflected in sharply reduced inter-marriage and genetic mixing after 100 AD. This happened thousands of years after the initial Aryan immigration.

A pigment of Imagination
These findings will dismay traditional Hindus who believe that Aryans originated in India and spread later into Central Asia and Europe, taking with them Sanskrit, which developed into other Indo-European languages. Many people, all the way from Germany to Iran, call themselves Aryan. Amazingly, despite having blond hair, blue eyes and white skins, they too are descended from the earliest Africans. Colour, language and rituals are no indication of ancestry, only genes are.

A hundred years ago, using linguistic and archeological evidence, European historians like Max Müller theorised that the Aryans came from Europe and Central Asia into India. That thesis seemed falsified by the new genetic studies 15 years ago, based essentially on female genes. These suggested that the early Africans may have developed into Aryans in India, who then migrated to the steppes and Europe. The RSS was thrilled that science suddenly seemed to vindicate their belief that Aryans originated in India. However, that theory has now been torpedoed by the latest genetic research, which takes into account male genes too. This research vindicates Max Müller’s theory. The biggest-ever genetic study was done by 92 scientists from all over the world, overseen by David Reich, Kumarasamy Thangaraj and others. This was published as recently as March 2018, titled ‘The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia’ (bit.do/eQmhF).

The research looked at DNA extracted from the remains of 612 ancient skeletons, from sites ranging from Central Asia to Iran and the Indian subcontinent. These samples were compared with the DNA of 246 genetic groups in modern South Asia. This was the biggest, most authoritative genetic study ever.

It showed conclusively that the only Aryans that ever migrated from India to Europe were the gypsies, or Roma. All other Aryan streams came in the other direction, from the steppes into India. Those steppe streams were mixtures of out-of-Africa groups settled in Mongolia and Europe. These intermingled for centuries, and then migrated to India.

India is a country of unrivalled diversity, with 22 official languages and thousands of dialects, plus a multitude of ethnic and religious groups. Such a country should, in any case, be celebrating its diversity rather than narrow majoritarianism. Genetic evidence now shows that Hindu majoritarianism is as mistaken on scientific as moral grounds.

Our genes show we are all African, Harappan and Steppe Asian in different doses. That is what makes us Indians, not an imaginary Aryan exclusivity.

Why Most Universities Snub Trump?

Let the commencement addresses commence. Universities always try to score a big “get” to keynote their graduation exercises, and they don’t get any bigger than a head of state.

This week, a prestigious American university proudly turned its graduation podium over to the leader of — Germany. Harvard’s preference for the Teutonic tones of Chancellor Angela Merkel over the New York English of President Trump reflects the sad state of how our nation converses — and how we represent ourselves to the world. 

The annual ritual of graduation speeches is part of American national conversation. Covered by the media and widely shared among “regular people,” these addresses present thoughts on values, wisdom, hope, challenge, change, compassion, and aspirations.

Increasingly, elite liberal colleges look more like a sinkhole of student debt, and ground zero for the greedy and intolerant face of education corporatism.

Harvard gave Merkel its coveted platform to share her musings with the world. But neither that hallowed institution — nor, so far as I can tell, any other university aside from military academies — appears to have invtied the U.S. president to speak.

The American academy, it seems, would prefer that Trump stay off their campuses and keep his thoughts to himself.

One the same day Merkel spoke at Harvard, Trump spoke to the graduating class of the Air Force Academy (a great institution, though it pains me, a West Point grad, to admit it). It was a big day for the cadets — not just because they received their commissions, but because the commander in chief stayed on stage after his speech to shake the hands with every newly commissioned officer. That’s about 1,000 hands.

But presidents routinely appear as graduation speakers at the military academies. The absence this year of a presidential voice at a non-military university is disconcerting.

Clearly, institutional academia is no fan of President Trump. But its disdain extends far beyond the president, encompassing virtually all things — and speakers — smacking of conservatism. That’s not new this year. I’ve been unable to identify a single Ivy League school that featured a conservative commencement speaker in the last three years. The real tragedy here is that the great universities are in danger of drifting away from the center of America’s public square.

This week, a prestigious American university proudly turned its graduation podium over to the leader of — Germany. This holds true for more than just cap-and-gown ceremonies. Shutting down conservative voices is starting to look like a required course. Increasingly, elite liberal colleges look more like a sinkhole of student debt, and ground zero for the greedy and intolerant face of education corporatism.

Conservative addresses at major universities are about as prominent as kale in Hannibal Lecter’s fridge. For every Arthur Brooks invited on campus there is an army of Madeleine Albrights and Michael Bloombergs. Even the long list of actors, writers, scholars and corporate bigwigs tends to lean left.

This holds true for more than just cap-and-gown ceremonies. Shutting down conservative voices is starting to look like a required course. Williams College recently drew national attention over the issue. Such stories seem more and more common.

And, it’s not just home-grown liberal activists trying to squelch “unacceptable” voices. There is an alarming trend of foreign Chinese students on American campuses organizing campaigns to silence speech unfavorable to their country

Conservatives and others who value free speech and open inquiry find these developments concerning. The president is so concerned, he has issued an executive order to protect free speech on campuses. It’s a sensible move, but one unlikely to make him many more friends in the faculty meetings.

The academy complains that Trump poorly represents America to the world. But increasingly, American universities are the national embarrassment. They are more concerned about Trump’s tweets than serving as a national beacon of free, inclusive and diverse speech.

The real tragedy here is that the great universities are in danger of drifting away from the center of America’s public square. They are losing their relevance to the rest of us. Increasingly, elite liberal colleges look more like a sinkhole of student debt, and ground zero for the greedy and intolerant face of education corporatism.

Weekend Special: Living to 100-plan for more sushi, chocolate and work

Sadly, Miyako Chiyo, the oldest person in Japan and the world, recently passed away. She was an incredible 117 years old. As we discussed the news together, we talked about the age to which he might live. Some estimates show that half of the 11-year-olds in the US today are expected to live beyond the age of 104. In Japan, with one of the world’s most rapidly aging populations, this increases to 107.

Miyako reportedly put down her long life to eating sushi and getting eight hours sleep a night. Jeanne Calment, who was the oldest person ever recorded at age 122, and other centenarians, reportedly enjoyed the regular consumption of chocolate. If only it was that simple to live well as we live longer.

Longer lifetimes mean many people need to be earning and saving for longer. In fact, most people today do not expect to retire at all. Mercer’s Healthy, Wealthy & Work-Wise research suggests that 68% of individuals globally don’t plan to ever retire or expect to keep working past a traditional retirement age, either out of financial necessity or choice.

As people are staying productive well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s, older workforces are growing rapidly around the world. In Japan, the proportion of the working age population aged 50-64 is expected to reach 38% by 2030; while in the UK the only growing labour pool is the over-50s. 

But older workers are today the group most likely to be involuntarily retired. Looking forward, older workers may also be the group most at risk of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence and robots as the Fourth Industrial Revolution disrupts the way we work. This underscores the need for a widespread change to how we think about work, retirement, lifelong learning and reskilling.

We can all benefit from greater acceptance and more accommodation of working later into life. Increased productivity and earnings for individuals in later years would go a long way to improving the solvency of government pension systems. Organizations can retain older workers’ significant experience and knowledge and benefit from more productive, age-diverse workforces. Individuals who work for longer are likely to see improved physical, emotional and cognitive health, plus, of course, greater financial security.

We must determine how to better enable older workers to contribute professionally by reappraising biases toward older people and eliminating ageism. Organizations have a significant role to play. 

Here are three ideas to get started:

1. Assess your organization’s demographics: internal labour market (ILM) maps and other tools can be deployed to ensure an evidence-based approach to understanding current and future workforce demographics.

2. Incorporate ageing into talent strategies: organizations must rethink how they attract top talent, have plans to develop talent as their businesses evolve, and have strategies to keep older talent in the workforce for longer.

3. Retire retirement: organizations and individuals will benefit from a more open and transparent dialogue and policies regarding retirement. Organizations and individuals should actively plan for how valued workers can continue to contribute to an organization perhaps in an entirely different capacity.

With such a significant majority of people expecting to continue working, the time has come for us all to actively plan to retire retirement.

European Trump Bashing Leaders Need a History Lesson

The 75th anniversary of D-Day is marked with solemn salutes for the undaunted courage of individual soldiers and sailors and the inspired leadership that assembled the armada that liberated Europe.

President Trump took take part in ceremonies in England and then in Normandy, France, where the German bunkers, bomb craters and the vast American cemetery stand in silent testament to the great alliance that came ashore and defeated Hitler.

Indeed it was great, perhaps the greatest wartime alliance in history, but could it be done again? If, God forbid, another Hitler were carving up Europe like warm bread, would a new international force respond to storm the beaches and save civilization?

Merely to ask the question is to suggest the unhappy answer. The West ain’t what it used to be.

This will come as news to many in London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels, but Donald Trump didn’t cause the decline of the West. In fact, among his supporters, the decline of America largely explains why he was elected in the first place.

Yet to hear the London demonstrators and some foolish British politicians, Trump is the biggest problem in the world. If it weren’t for him, the lion and the lamb could lay down together. Sure, all you would need is a new lamb each morning.

The modern world as we know it was born in the aftermath of World War II. Unprecedented levels of peace, prosperity and democracy spread across the globe and were guaranteed by financial and military institutions funded mostly by America.

But vigilance waned as memories dimmed, and much of Europe used the continent’s longest holiday from war to disarm and expand their welfare states. They assumed, correctly, that America would be there to protect them.

Then along comes Trump with his America First agenda and instantly he’s the skunk at their garden party. He demands, outrageously in their view, that Europe finally pay its fair share for the common defense, a promise often made but never kept.

They hate his insistence on border security, even as their nations are roiled by their own influx of uninvited migrants. They hate him for this and they hate him for that, but most of all, they hate him for being so damn American. Give us a citizen of the world, they say, give us another Barack Obama. Give us somebody who flatters us and apologizes for America.

This hatred can appear to be a kind of sport for hooligans, with loud chants, quiet snubs and occasional milk shakes the weapons of choice. But this is no game.

The alienation is so deep and destructive that if Trump were at the helm of a new alliance in a time of global crisis, many of our old allies would spend their energies demonstrating against him and spewing nonsense, but few would pick up a gun or encourage others to do so. They would rather lose than fight beside him.

Trump Derangement Syndrome, you see, has gone international. He doesn’t deserve a state visit or even common courtesy because, according to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, America’s president “stands for the complete opposite of London’s values.”

Right, London’s values. Asian autocrats, Mideast butchers and Russian oligarchs are welcomed there with open arms, but the president of the United States is treated too often like a Third World thug.

Trump got it exactly right when he called Khan a shorter version of Bill de Blasio. The anti-Semitic leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, boycotted the state dinner but appeared at a demonstration protesting Trump’s presence. Corbyn has laid a wreath on the graves of Arab terrorists and compared Israel to Nazis, but Trump is beneath him.

Prime Minister Theresa May, on her way out the door, behaved impeccably in hosting Trump, as did Queen Elizabeth and those in the royal family who understand what America means to the world.

But the likes of Khan and Corbyn stain historic memory and embarrass their nation. They are the ignorant elite, seeing a hamstrung America — and a diminished Israel — as good for the world.

They view their fellow countrymen who support Brexit as the British equivalent of deplorables. They are not alone. Consider that on the eve of Trump’s trip, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the commencement address at Harvard and got standing ovations for obvious criticisms of America’s president, though she never used his name. Naturally, Merkel also got applause from the American media for taking on the president they love to hate.

In another era, no foreign leader would dare think of coming to America to insult our president. But the “anything goes” habit has become so routine in the age of Trump that Merkel’s insufferable lecture came and went without much notice.

In Washington, mad-dog Democrats also threw off bipartisan traditions and good manners. Even as the president was out of the country, they continued to air their fantasies of deposing him, with some advocating a climb-the-ladder approach of first impeaching much of his cabinet.

Attorney General William Barr is at the top of their enemies list, a desperate-for-attention 2020 candidate called for the impeachment of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and others want Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to face the same music. They’ll come up with reasons later.

Two leaders of the House impeachment caucus, Rep. James Clyburn and Rep. Jerry Nadler, explained that they were going slowly because the public polls showed wide opposition to impeaching the president. So first, they’re going to have a trial and then hang him.

Clyburn said various committee investigations would “effectively educate the public” while Nadler put it this way: “The American people, right now, do not support it because they do not know the story. They don’t know the facts.”

Ah, yes, the rubes, bitter clingers and irredeemables should shut up and listen as their government betters instruct them in the inscrutable meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Ironically, such fundamental unseriousness is made possible by the great victory achieved 75 years ago. You don’t have to romanticize war or the ordinary people who fought it to imagine how the 2,499 Americans who died on D-Day would view their nation today.

From Tiananmen to digital dystopia

Rise of the all-knowing surveillance state has reinforced Deng Xiaoping’s model of open economy and closed polity in China.

Three decades ago this week, the Chinese Communist Party cracked down hard on student protests demanding the liberalisation of China’s political system. The movement that began on a small scale in the early summer of 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square spread rapidly to many towns and cities and gained significant popular support. During the night of June 3-4, troops of the People’s Liberation Army fought their way into the heart of Beijing against civilian resistance and cleared the square of thousands of citizens who gathered there.

The bloody crackdown at Tiananmen remains a deep and unhealed scar in the evolution of modern China and the reign of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that began seven decades ago in 1949. The CCP, under the leadership of the supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, characterised the protests as a counter revolutionary rebellion, ousted the party secretary Zhao Ziyang and other communist leaders seen as empathetic to the students, and unleashed a wave of political repression.

The Tiananmen protests have endured as a powerful symbol of the popular struggles for political liberalisation and the capacity of authoritarian rulers to crush them. Nothing captures this enduring tension more than the image of the “tank man” — a lone citizen trying to stop a column of tanks in the Tiananmen Square on the morning of June 5. Over the last three decades, that balance appears to have shifted in favour of the state, at least for now.

Accelerating that shift has been the revolution in digital technologies that has allowed states to exercise unprecedented control over their citizens. There seems to be less and less need to deploy massive numbers of troops and tanks to put down large-scale protests as the CCP had to do in June 1989. New technological systems based on mass surveillance, data analytics and artificial intelligence are helping modern authoritarians to prevent the emergence of not just large-scale protests, but stamp out individual dissent. But back to Tiananmen for a moment.

Chairman Deng leavened China’s political repression that followed after the Tiananmen protests with a counter-intuitive initiative. He unleashed a massive economic reform in 1992. Deng blocked the CCP’s return to ideological conservatism by decisively shifting China’s economic orientation to liberalisation and globalisation. Deng’s strategy limited the international opprobrium that followed the Tiananmen crackdown. It opened up expansive possibilities for Western capital in China and renewed political engagement with the US, Europe and Japan.

Deng’s 1992 reforms put China on the path to rapid economic growth. A decade later, China was on its way to becoming the second-largest economy in the world and well on track to overtake the United States. Deng’s strategy seemed to offer Chinese citizens a new compact — economic prosperity in return for political obedience. Rapid economic growth over a prolonged period, to be sure, triggered social turbulence and political discontent.

Some analysts of China were convinced that the contradictions of “red capitalism” — a communist party building capitalism — will inevitably undermine CCP rule. Others hoped that economic prosperity will generate a middle class that will seek greater freedoms and the state in China, as elsewhere in East Asia, will slowly but certainly evolve towards liberalism.

Both would be disappointed as the CCP rule looked far more resilient and stable than anyone had anticipated. One reason, arguably, is the new means of control that the party had acquired. The post-Tiananmen era in China had a third element that reinforced Deng’s model of “open economy and closed polity” — the rise of the all-knowing surveillance state with enormous potential for digital repression.

A quarter century ago, the internet era was heralded with the hope of expanded freedoms — individual and collective. Instead, it opened the door for unprecedented state control over citizenry. No other nation has demonstrated the new possibilities for digital control of society as China has in the last few years.

Beijing employed a number of means — including the erection of a “great wall” of censorship over the internet, monitoring of the physical movement of individuals through omnipresent surveillance cameras, analysing the digital activity of individuals and investment in technologies such as facial recognition. The construction of the surveillance state in China, many believe, rules out any protest movement of the kind we saw at Tiananmen three decades ago.

The Chinese-model of mass surveillance is now being exported to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is, therefore, tempting to frame the debate in terms of authoritarian versus democratic states. But caution is in order. The rise of the “surveillance state” in China and other states has its version in the democratic world — the rise of “surveillance capitalism”. US technology giants, for example, have been accused of collection, manipulation and monetisation of consumer data. Some of them have also been charged with facilitating the rise of the surveillance state in China and its global diffusion.

However, there is a difference. In most democracies, there is a big push back against surveillance capitalism and the search for means to protect individuals and communities against corporate greed and state repression in the digital age. But we are at the very beginning of a challenging project to prevent the emergence of a digital dystopia.

Civilisation Exchanges Welcome, Trade Bullying Not Acceptable

Recently, US officials clamoured for the so-called “clash of civilizations”. It is nothing new but an upgraded version of Huntington’s theory in the 1990s. It probably intends to glorify its history of genocide against the American Indians in the early years of USA or to find theoretical basis for waging a trade war, which should be guarded against. The exchanges between Chinese and Indian civilizations set a model for inter-civilizational exchanges in Asia and beyond. It is based on mutual understanding and trust. The so-called clash or conflict of civilizations doesn’t exist.

Though differences among civilizations are only natural, differences do not mean conflicts. It could be addressed through exchanges, mutual learning, dialogue and cooperation among different civilizations. The Chinese side respects differences, uniqueness and diversity of different civilizations and does not believe conflicts exist among civilizations. Nor has China the intention or gene to transform or replace other civilizations.

We strongly oppose the conspiracy of politicizing differences among civilizations, or making it an excuse for stirring up conflicts between countries. This is the broad consensus reached during the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC) hosted by China recently

A high-level Chinese delegation attended WTO Ministerial Meeting of Developing Countries hosted by India last week. The outcome document reiterated the priority status of WTO in the formulation of global trade rules and governance. It stressed that core values and basic principles of WTO shall be upheld and WTO reform process must reflect concerns of developing members. It is another epitome of China and India jointly upholding multilateral trading system and the interests of developing countries to oppose trade bullying and achieve win-win cooperation.

According to research of British economist Angus Maddison, over the past 2000 years, the GDP of China and India combined had accounted for 50% of the world’s total for as long as 1600 years. Since modern times, both China and India suffered from hegemonism and “gunboat diplomacy”. The new round of globalization, as well as multilateral trading system originating from the end of 20th century, provided valuable historical opportunities for China and India to integrate into world economy. China and India have been learning from each other and have conducted practical cooperation in areas such as economic governance, policy synergy and industrial cooperation. China’s and India’s economy continue to boom and their comprehensive national strength and global influences continue to increase and expand significantly. The national rejuvenation of China and India is within reach.

However, the way forward will never be smooth. Against the backdrop of surging trade protectionism, emerging economies have been constantly pressurized, bullied or even contained by a certain developed country, which seeks supremacy and is determined to act wilfully.

It resorts to new “magic weapons”, such as withdrawing from international organizations, abrogating agreements, wielding sticks of tariffs, creating blockage and imposing sanctions. Disregarding its international credibility, it seeks to promote self-interest through extreme pressure and by breaching promises. It advocates “Self-interests First”, clamours for the “clash of civilizations” between the West and the East, as well as between the white and the colored, inciting nationalist sentiments.

As the second largest economy in the world, China falls major victim to this round of pressure and bullying from the United States. China always upholds that slapping tariff does not help solve any problems, and differences should be addressed through consultations based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. A trade war will only be detrimental to both sides. China does not want, and is not willing to fight a trade war but by no means is it afraid to fight one. China remains committed to addressing disputes through negotiations and never yields to any outside pressure. If someone brings the war to our doorstep, China will fight to the end.

The US also abuses “national security standards” and suppresses Chinese Company Huawei on 5G, which neither side could gain. At the same time, we should be aware that no eggs can remain unbroken when the nest is upset. The US does not only target China, but also the EU, Japan, Canada and Mexico to realize its interests. India is also the victim to the bullying, which includes imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum products, threatening to end the Generalized System of Preference, and crippling the WTO disputes settlement system to create the “Graduation Theory” of developing countries. If countries do not make concerted efforts to safeguard the existing rules of global economic governance, no one can escape from its harm.

As ancient eastern civilizations, both China and India share the philosophy of harmonious relations, inclusiveness, mutual benefits and win-win outcomes. In the future, China and India should comprehensively deepen mutual political trust, economic and trade cooperation as well as people-to-people exchanges. We should push forward connectivity to promote cooperation, enhance mutual understanding through cooperation, foster friendship through mutual understanding, and establish mutual trust through friendship, thus forming a positive cycle. In the international arena, we should jointly address challenges in global governance such as anti-globalization, unilateralism and trade protectionism. China and India should also join hands to build an Asian Century, a new type of international relations and a community with shared future for mankind to embrace various booming civilizations.

Concept of Being Old Needs Rethinking

In 1950, men and women at age 65 could expect to live about 11 years more on average. Today, that number has gone up to 17, and the United Nations forecasts that it will increase by about five more years by the end of the century.

One consequence of the increase in life expectancy is that the proportion of the population above age 65 has increased, too. In policy analyses and in the media, increases in these proportions are frequently taken to mean that the population will keep getting older. This is often interpreted as warning of a forthcoming crisis.

As researchers who study aging, we believe that it’s better to think about older people not in terms of their chronological ages, but in terms of their remaining life expectancy.

In a study, published on Feb. 26, the scholars explored the implications of this alternative view for assessing the likely future of population aging. They found that, using this new perspective, population aging in high-income countries will likely come to an end shortly after the middle of the century.

Age inflation

Sixty-five-year-olds today are not like 65-year-olds in 1900. Today’s older people on average live longer, are healthier and score higher on cognitive tests.

There are two different ways that demographers can think about older people. They can define older people by the number of years they’ve already lived, or they can define older people based on how many more years they are expected to live. The research subscribes to the second view.

We think about aging the way economists think about price inflation. Say US$75 today would buy the same amount as $65 in the past. In essence, $75 is the new $65, because $75 today and $65 in the past had the same purchasing power.

When we say that 75 is the new 65, we mean something similar – that 75-year-olds now have the same remaining life expectancy as 65-year-olds in the past. Adjusting age for changes in remaining life expectancy is called adjustment for “age inflation.” It’s just like adjusting the value of the dollar for changes in purchasing power.

Measuring future aging

In the study, the researchers explored the future of population aging, measured with and without age inflation. They wanted to understand whether population aging will come to an end in the foreseeable future, particularly in wealthier countries, where public concern about population aging is most acute. They looked at countries with a gross national income per capita at or above $4,000, including Barbados, Croatia, the U.S., China, Russia and South Africa.

Using the U.N.‘s forecasts of population sizes and age structures, a computer program generated 1,000 random possible future populations for these countries.

They computed the likelihood that population aging would come to an end this century using two measures. First, we looked at the proportion of the the population above a certain age. The unadjusted measures uses a cutoff of 65. The adjusted measure uses an age that changes from year to year based on a remaining life expectancy of 15 years.

Second, they looked at the median age of the population: the age that divides the population into two equally sized groups.

It was found that, when unadjusted measures are used, population aging generally continues through the end of the century. But, when adjusted measures are used, population aging generally comes to an end well before the end of the century.

When exactly will population aging end? It depends on whether you’re looking at the adjusted proportion of people who are counted as old is used or the adjusted median age. By the second measure, in over 95% of our 1,000 simulated futures, populations stopped growing older by 2050.

Two views of aging and public policy

In 1950, the average monthly U.S. Social Security benefit was $29. The people of 1950 could have envisioned two scenarios for future Social Security payments. In one future, the average monthly Social Security benefit would have stayed unadjusted for expected wage and price increases. In that scenario, the average monthly benefit would still be $29. In the second, Social Security benefits would be adjusted for expected wage increases and inflation.

Of course, although it is possible, no one would ever forecast future Social Security payments assuming a fixed dollar monthly payment. It’s too unrealistic. Forecasts are always made using adjusted benefit levels.

In demography, however, forecasts of population aging are still often made on the basis of ages unadjusted for life expectancy change. We believe these are equally unrealistic.

For example, today in the U.S., people are not allowed to contribute to certain retirement savings plans after age 70 and a half. As life expectancy increases, an increasing proportion of the population may wish to continue contributing to their saving plans after age 70 and a half but be unable to do so.

As people continue to live longer, governments will need to rethink similar policies around health care, employment and more. Eventually, as conditions change, we worry that policies based on fixed chronological ages will become as dysfunctional as a $29 monthly Social Security benefit would be today.

Does Pakistan Want Return of Ayub or Zia?

The demand by some powerful elements that the parliamentary form of government should be replaced with a presidential one may be taken as a continuation of a similar campaign launched by Gen Ziaul Haq in the 1980s.

Gen Zia could not change the system formally but he made so many alterations in the Constitution that the form of government in fact became presidential.

While arguing in favour of a presidential system, Zia claimed that the Quaid-i-Azam had opted for this system in a note in his diary. But the diary was not made public — only a small part of a page was released to the media — and the people could not examine the context of the observation attributed to the Quaid. Besides, the general was quite uncomfortable while invoking the Quaid-i-Azam’s name in his rhetoric as his theocratic objectives were in direct conflict with the Quaid’s political thought, especially his design for a Pakistani nation on the basis of common citizenship.

A campaign to demonise democracy, political parties and politics itself is in full swing.

Gen Zia did not mention the Quaid’s diary for long as his hands were not clean. He had overthrown a constitutional authority, an offence for which the Quaid had prescribed the death penalty before Independence. While speaking in the Indian Central Assembly on the colonial government’s decision to punish the officers of the Indian National Army, he said: “…when the time comes, my army in Pakistan shall, without doubt, maintain all loyalty, whatever the liability, and if anyone did not do so, be he a soldier or be he an officer or civilian, he will go the same way as William Joyce and John Amery.” (The two members of the English elite, the latter a son of the secretary of state for India, were executed for supporting Hitler during the Second World War.)

Since the government doesn’t have the requisite strength in parliament, the federal law minister has said that referendum will be a democratic method for a switch over to the presidential system. But a referendum on the form of government too will require a constitutional amendment. In view of the way generals Zia and Musharraf held the referenda and secured predetermined results, the people are unlikely to accept any change by referendum.

The real issue is that references to the presidential system are being made without specifying as to which of the several presidential models known to the world is being chosen for Pakistan. A proper debate will not be possible until the advocates of change put all their cards on the table.

But Pakistan has already tried the presidential system and the disastrous consequences are no secret.

Ayub Khan originally believed in a presidential system in which there were no political parties in parliament; the ministers were neither members of legislatures nor answerable to them. He imposed a constitution drafted by himself, changed the name of the state and excluded the chapter on fundamental rights from the basic law. He had to retreat but he never accepted responsibility before any democratic institution. He did not consult the National Assembly about Operation Gibraltar that led to the 1965 conflict with India, and informed it about the Tashkent Declaration only after he had signed it. He tried to buy the eastern wing’s loyalty with bribes in the name of development and to maintain order with the help of hatchet men like Monem Khan. After a decade of stability and development, the country broke up.

Some politically naive people absolve Ayub Khan of the wounds he inflicted on the polity on the grounds of the development work carried out during his dictatorship in presidential robes. They forget our struggle for freedom from the British who had established courts and universities, laid railway tracks and created the largest irrigation system in the world.

Ayub Khan’s successor, Yahya Khan, won some credit for restoring the principle of one-man one-vote, undoing One Unit and holding the country’s first general election, but he covered himself with ignominy by refusing to accept the results of the election and by pushing the country towards disintegration. All of his actions, good or bad, were taken without consulting any representative body.

Gen Zia too was a powerful president. He made a show of consulting his rufaqa (colleagues) but he took all actions on his own and was not subject to any institution’s oversight. He changed the Constitution to suit his whim and fancy. Worst of all, he pushed Pakistan into the Afghanistan conflict and made it a victim of the gun-and-drug culture.

Thus the presidents of Pakistan caused the state far greater harm than what was done by all the parliamentary leaders put together.

The choice between the presidential and parliamentary systems cannot be made by ascertaining which one of them is theoretically superior to the other. Prudence and common sense demand adoption of a system that the people are familiar with.

Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq both favoured a system that was supposed to be in accord with the people’s genius or psyche. While the people of Pakistan have surrendered more than once to dictatorial regimes, there is no evidence to suggest that they prefer bondage to freedom. On the other hand, they have brought down through their struggle and sacrifice powerful dictatorships every nine or 10 years.

Pakistan is going through hard times. A campaign to demonise democracy, political parties and politics itself is in full swing. The space for basic freedoms and the emergence of a sound public opinion has almost disappeared. The people have reason to apprehend that the move to revert to the presidential system could lead to the extinction of representative governance.

Politics being the art of the possible, all democratic groups have the responsibility to strengthen the parliamentary system that ordinary citizens have begun to understand, instead of running towards a supposedly ideal system to manage which we don’t have the required force of angels.

Ending the 18 Year Old War

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, the challenge of ending America’s longest war has acquired new urgency. While the Taliban have stepped up their international diplomacy – with publicised events in Moscow to pressure the US to end its military involvement, US Afghan negotiators too would be embarking on fresh rounds of visits. To boost chances of a successful agreement improvement of relations with Pakistan may also be on the cards. A hurriedly concluded peace settlement and rapid withdrawal of American troops that the Taliban want could leave India as a bystander in a country where it has sunk a considerable amount of its resources and prestige. Pakistan, on the other hand, could cash in diplomatic rewards for its long sponsorship of the Taliban.

The current US-Taliban talks centre on four issues – withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, guarantees against terrorism, peace talks between Taliban and the Afghan government, and a lasting ceasefire. For the Taliban, the core issue is America announcing that it is ending its 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.  For its part, Washington wants guarantees that al-Qaeda or IS will never be able to use Afghan territory to launch terrorist attacks.

The US expects Taliban to show some flexibility on the timetable for withdrawal, in view of the fact that pulling out all 14,000 troops and all their equipment and bases may take months if not longer. The Taliban are focussed on obtaining a US declaration of planned withdrawal, which would reassure their rank-and-file that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – as the Taliban calls themselves – has won the jihad. Securing a withdrawal while the Taliban refuse to negotiate with Kabul is of course problematic.

Even if a way could be found around this problem, few in Washington trust that the Taliban would prevent al-Qaida or IS from using Afghan territory to launch terrorist attacks, as they did in the run-up to September 11, 2001. Taliban leaders have tried to reassure US officials that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has pledged allegiance to the Taliban and is now engaged in fighting against IS.

While chief negotiator Mullah Baradar, who co-founded the Taliban along with Mullah Omar, expresses his sincere desire for peace, some members of his negotiating group remain sceptical of American intentions. Given the Taliban’s long association with Pakistan, improving US relations with Islamabad has become all the more important in the weeks leading up to the Afghan elections in September and more importantly, Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

US negotiators are pressing ahead to conclude an agreement covering all four points before Afghans vote in September. But their task is complicated by acrimonious relations between Pakistan and the US.  In late 2018 with an angry tweet Trump suspended over $1 billion in military aid to Pakistan, accusing the country of “lies and deceit,” adding later that America’s efforts had not succeeded in persuading Islamabad to do “a damn thing for us”. He reminded Pakistan that it harboured Osama bin Laden for years before American forces found and killed him. After a long, bitter war against the Taliban, which was often backed by Pakistan, the time has come for all parties to try and reset relations. Observers in Washington expect an attempt by the Trump administration to win Pakistani support for its Afghan withdrawal plan.

Despite Trump’s anger about Pakistan, a détente with the country seems unavoidable if Trump wishes to keep his promise of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.  In his January 2019 State of the Union address, Trump said “As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counterterrorism.” If he is able to achieve troop withdrawal as a promise kept, he would score important points with his base. If the withdrawal does take place, India can only hope that peace in Afghanistan does not lead Pakistan to redirect in strategic focus to Kashmir.

Recalling A Hindu King of Yore-Suryavarman II of Cambodia

Let us take a ride back to the 11th century to look at the journey of a great ruler and earnest devotee, Suryavarman II, and take a plunge to know our legacy.

  • King at 17

Suryavarman II was a King of the Khmer Empire at an era when the empire was weakening and control was being lost. It is remarkable what he has been able to achieve and spread in such a tumultuous period. Even as a young prince, he sought to gain power as a rightful heir to the throne. With competition from the lineage of Harshavarman III and the distant royalty, he assumed power in 1113 CE. This was a king educated in sacred rituals and combined knowledge of our heritage with practical tactics. One could predict that great things were lying ahead. His name “Suryavarman” is a combination of the Sanskrit words surya” and “varman” which stand for “the sun” and “the protector” respectively. He was seen as the protector of his folks for the times to come.

  • The Vaishnav Emperor

He had to wear the hat of the Khmer Emperor at the age of 21. His efforts were to consolidate and reunite the empire. He organized massive military activities in order to acquire the same. There were massive attacks against the Chams. More than twenty thousand soldiers were marched with seven hundred vessels into the coast. Even though these attacks did not see any benefits for the empire, they were a remarkable demonstration of an organized and strenuous military effort. He tried to assume good relations with the neighbouring regions of China. In his reign, art and architecture saw a tenfold growth.

Suryavarman was a devout Vaishnav. Being the dutiful Vishnu bhakt, he was one an unusual Khmer King to bring Vishnu devotees together to the religious life at court with the precedence of earlier Shiva devotees. People co-existed and culture flourished under him. He spent his entire life in worship and devotion to Vishnu which is prominently evident in the architecture and scriptures form this era. Suryavarman was an ardent believer of the “Ek-Patni-vrat” which stood for having one wife or significant other for a lifetime. In the age of kings and prominent rulers, most of them took to a polygamist lifestyle where they had many marriages. Devotion to one wife until the very end was a spectacular change.

The king was an ardent admirer of art and architecture. This can be marked as a period in the history of the Indian heritage that saw the building of art pieces and monuments with sustainable techniques that they are preserved to be witnessed even to this day. He was a patron of jewellery which promoted such workmanship. He was known to wear diadems, anklets, bracelets and armlets. This led to a passionate discovery of art in the region. His era was one where folks lived in serenity, comfort and peace.

  • Built the Angkor Wat

King Suryavarman II was a religious reformer and influencer who adopted values from Hindu deities like Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. His religious and spiritual path was guided by his Guru Divakarapandita. The king became so influenced with Vaishnavism that he declared it to be the official religion of his Empire whereas his predecessors had been into Buddhism. The King was extremely religious and was also known to be a temple builder since he sponsored the creation of numerous temples in his lifetime.

In the early 12th century, King Suryavarman II built the Angkor Wat temple in Siemreab, the capital of the Khmer empire. He dedicated this temple to Lord Vishnu. The temple was one of the largest religious structures for centuries. Walls and a moat surround this magnificent temple. The temple includes sculptures that portray Suryavarman as Lord Vishnu where he is often shown reviewing his troops, addressing audiences and also performing various other functions. This shows how much of an influence Lord Vishnu had on his life. Unfortunately, the construction of this temple was completed after his death but he was such as ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu that the temple, after his death, became his tomb.

Suryavarman was posthumously named  Paramavvishnuloka meaning ‘he who has entered the heavenly world of Vishnu’. His unforgettable brainchild Angkor Wat could only be completed after his death. A sculpture at Angkor Wat captures his image and makes him and his remarkable reign immortal in the eyes of the generations to come.

Dividing to rule

The contemporary use of the policy of divide and rule demonstrates the persistence of the temptation, colonial rulers had given in to Identity politics is part of a much larger social phenomenon.

“Beg to differ” was one of the many phrases that made no sense but you had to get used to them in order to learn English. That this phrase would one day become essential had never occurred to me. Now it has. I feel like using it all the time these days. Differing from another person in public is full of risk, so if begging secures you some kindness in advance, there is no harm in begging. This is, of course, not why an English gentleman said, “I beg to differ”.

Many old expressions that have gone out of use in the native land of the English continue to be used in India. Our system of education keeps them alive. They are regularly used in administration, police procedures and in the judiciary. As an English-using nation, our status has improved and many of our English writers are treated as mother-tongue speakers.

Consider the staple of colonial history. The English practised a divide and rule policy, according to several Class 8 history textbooks. According to them, Partition was a consequence of this policy. If that is so, why are we doing the same thing now? Divide and rule seems to have become the winning ideology of the current election. We call it differently now. The term preferred by television anchors and the press is polarisation. They say the outcome of this election will depend on the extent to which the polarising rhetoric of the ruling party succeeds. Other parties are also said to be following this approach except they are polarising along regional or caste lines.

If this is indeed a continuation of colonial strategies, we should return to authors like Paul Scott and Albert Memmi. I read the latter in a course on Third World development. Along with Franz Fanon, Memmi made immense sense though both these authors were concerned with Africa. The story of India was different from that of Africa and Latin America, but there were continuities too. The ones in economic relations between the colonisers and the colonised were easy to notice and grasp. Not so visible were the psychological parallels, especially because figures like Gandhi made India look and feel different from anywhere else. He seemed to have given India a new identity, putting the fear of imperial power at rest. Memmi’s thesis was that loss of identity and fear push the colonised towards religion. If Gandhi averted that fate for India, his success was neither total nor permanent. Had it been so, the colonial formula of divide and rule on religious lines wouldn’t have come back to haunt this election.

The fact that the system of education continues to carry numerous marks of its colonial legacy does not make colonialism a worthwhile topic of study. Unless you present it as history, you can’t get very far with students who believe that colonialism ended when India gained freedom. They attribute its living legacies to inefficient administrators and politicians. It doesn’t help much either if you try to distinguish colonial rule from colonial relations and the ideology they signify. Gandhi’s critique of the colonial worldview arouses some interest in the few who agree to wonder why education does not fortify people against divisive propaganda. Indeed, the view that the common people are emotional and their hearts are more important for votes than their minds is also a colonial legacy. Many senior British administrators were guided by the stereotype of Indians as emotionally driven people, lacking rationality. This stereotype gained popularity among Indians who started to identify with colonial masters, not just in lifestyle but in ideas and perceptions too.

An important distinction needs to be made about election propaganda. Identity politics is part of a much larger social phenomenon. It has grown in recent decades in response to the growth of collective self-awareness and communication among dispersed members of communities. Creation of vote banks along caste lines is one thing; actively promoting religious otherness is quite different. The emotive potential of the two processes also differs. In the first case, people who see their caste identity as means of consolidating their material interests come together without necessarily hating others who identify with a different voting collective. In the case of divisive otherness along religious lines, inimical feelings are mixed with anger and aggression.

The advantage that colonial rulers derived by using divide and rule policies was that they weakened resistance. What advantage can a divide and rule strategy offer today? It will make India less governable even if you win one more chance to govern it by putting the coloniser’s strategy to fresh use. It will also weaken the state apparatus. Institutions in charge of maintaining law and order have not outgrown the legacy and shadow of colonial history. As recent events show, even institutions that directly manage the electoral process now prefer to overlook than intervene.

Our diversity alone will save us when divide and rule is back in business. No emotion seems to last long in a diverse social landscape. Nor does any emotional mood cover India’s territorial vastness. Even during patches of war, such as 1962, 1965 and 1971, the awareness of problems like water and food shortage was quite widespread. Regional issues remained sharply capable of influencing politics. This is unlikely to change, and the current phase is particularly prone to the force of diversity. A slow and staggered election schedule has also helped to keep emotions temporal and stuck to local anxieties. No emotion lasts long, no matter how assiduously it is aroused. Divide and rule might have served as a strategy during certain phases of colonial rule, but it did not work in every case. Its contemporary use merely demonstrates the persistence of the temptation that India’s colonial rulers had felt during their stay.

The Credibility of Content In the Age of Social Media

The scale and volume at which misinformation is being created; we may need to develop large scale cadres of MIL experts (media information literacy experts) at community levels to reinstall our messaging patterns. If this isn’t done on a priority basis, our society is at a serious risk of information toxicity.

In the last one month, India has witnessed unprecedented levels of misinformation, lies, fables and manufactured statistics being fed to people through their mobile devices.

In the digital age, where copious amounts of free information is available in public domain, the menace of misinformation, propaganda and personal attacks is bound to exist. It is certainly not new in the world of social media. In the last few months, however, social media has been at its worst. At the same time, it is also struggling, taking baby steps towards improving itself.

I have come to strongly believe that social media is the tool for new age information warfare. A vast pool of easily-available digitised information has given swift access to miscreants as well as politicians to formulate their parallel versions of the truth.

Riding on networking, information sharing and propaganda, political parties have set up war rooms, garages and factories. Hours and days at a stretch are being spent to manufacture disinformation, disseminate it through public or private communication channels, and wait for it to play up.

In the last one month, India has witnessed unprecedented levels of misinformation, lies, fables and manufactured statistics being fed to people through their mobile devices. The systematic, organised way in which large amounts of misinformation is reaching the masses is leaving the public confused between right and wrong and between relevant and irrelevant. Adding fuel to the raging fire is the usual public apathy towards “fact-checking” and verifying the information they are consuming.

Mainstream media houses, with their political biases and jingoism in prime time spotlight, have blurred the lines between fake and fact, reporting and opinion, objective and subjective. Gone are the days of media objectivity. And, unfortunately, the systematic and organised voices are louder even though they may not be credible.

But hey, what is a credible source in the age of social media and instant messaging platforms?

Believers are following a storyline and their influencers; non-believers are following the other narrative that feeds their ideas leaving them in an echo chamber of toxic information. With mainstream media channels, in many cases, becoming the mouthpieces of political parties, believers don’t get to hear the non-believer’s storyline with objectivity and non-believers don’t get to hear the believer’s storyline with objectivity.

Clearly then, the ongoing elections are being contested on the basis of “my information” versus “your information” and not necessarily on facts and lies.

People find it easier to believe a piece of information if it aligns with their political, religious or personal ideology or biases and favourites. They ignore the idea that their friends, family or networks could also be pushing misinformation, by choice or by chance.

After all, misinformation manufacturers aren’t just working out of their head offices in the national capital, but are even operational at the district, block and village level. They are using the media of text messages, voice notes, photographs and videos; and they are grabbing the attention of their audiences through humour, sarcasm, memes and gifs. If everything fails, they return to the usual emotional approach — a misguided sense of religious and nationalist identities.

If there are few fact finders who are trying to bust hoaxes and fake information circulating online, they are attacked, trolled, mocked and bullied by fake news manufacturers. Besides, how many fake news busters would even be enough for a population of 1.3 billion people?

In the ongoing phase of information war and misinformation spread, the biggest and most powerful weapons are the “likes”, “shares” and “forwards”. Do you know that Facebook alone deleted two billion fake accounts last year, and the platform deletes approximately one million fake accounts every day? Imagine the amount and scale of (mis)information manufacturers that could come your way.

In a country of 900 million Indian voters, at least 200 million use social media and instant messaging platforms on a daily basis. Each one of them is connected to hundreds and thousands of individuals, mostly those with a mobile phone in their hands but some also who have no devices. The problem, however, does not lie in the platforms, it lies with the people. The masses have not been trained and equipped to produce content. They are largely consuming content, and passing it on further for the sheer enjoyment of sharing, without pausing and thinking about its consequences.

The scale and volume at which misinformation is being created; we may need to develop large scale cadres of MIL experts (media information literacy experts) at community levels to reinstall our messaging patterns. If this isn’t done on a priority basis, our society is at a serious risk of information toxicity.

Socrates, the philosopher, whom most do not read

Refashioning the oracular imperative — know thyself — the real Socratic question turns out to be not about him but about ourselves.

Socrates had no interest in natural science or metaphysics (unconcerned with fantasies of the afterlife), epistemology (his model of knowledge was based on everyday occupations), or theology (he neither spoke on behalf of the gods nor about them).

Though probably the best known philosopher in the Western tradition, Socrates’ fame is based not on his work, as he wrote nothing, but on the monument of his life as reconstructed by his disciples, mainly Plato. The Socratic question is: How real is the character Plato sketches in his numerous dialogues? Plato’s Apology, reporting the defence (Apologia) made by Socrates at his trial, shows him to be the first public intellectual rather than an absent minded stargazer.

Socrates had no interest in natural science or metaphysics (unconcerned with fantasies of the afterlife), epistemology (his model of knowledge was based on everyday occupations), or theology (he neither spoke on behalf of the gods nor about them). Instead, Socrates positioned himself as practitioner of free inquiry. Interacting with fellow citizens in the Agora (the centre of the city), he forced them to reflect on their own beliefs. His method, stylistically grounding both philosophical prose and tragic poetry of the time, was akin to a judicial cross-examination, in tune with his claim: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” obeying this dictum, he followed his god-given duty to “… go about doing nothing else than urging you… not to care for your persons or your property more than for the perfecting of your souls… for virtue is not derived from wealth, virtue is itself the source of wealth… both for the individual and the State”.(Apology 30).

Care of the self and the examined life are conceptually linked. To say that the unexamined life is not worth living is to make a claim for the importance of philosophical examination in one’s own life. This has parallels in other traditions, in the practice of meditation, confession of sins, etc, but these are usually private rather than public acts.

Care of the self also involves paying attention to what is really important and so becomes the question of how one should live one’s life, a question which, for Socrates, philosophy alone is equipped to answer. In a paradoxical reversal, asking the question becomes the answer. The simple asking of questions (of ourselves, of others) is living the examined life. More recent versions emphasise paying attention to what we do — thinking about and examining our motivations is to live authentically — the hallmark of the Socratic demand that we place ourselves under scrutiny.

Unlike other Socratic paradoxes (“no one does wrong willingly”, “the good man cannot be harmed”), this injunction is easy to repeat but difficult to practice. What Socrates called for was an examination of our belief system as a whole which, once exposed, was subject to a rigorous assessment, leaving no room for anything hidden or unexpressed. This was also the beginning of philosophical therapy: Ironing out the wrinkles of deceit and double dealing, seemingly necessary to everyday existence. Socratic examination was the first step in the care of the self.

Socrates, though put to death by majority vote, was not in opposition but in apposition to democratic Athens, where freedom of speech was every citizen’s right. Even the city’s most vociferous critics could speak openly: Reasoning in the courts (where citizens doubled as either judge or jury) or declaiming in the Assembly (where policies were debated and ratified). Nor was it surprising that the heights of Athenian civilisational achievement was bracketed between the tyranny of Pisistratus and the hegemony of Philip of Macedon.

Unlike the intelligentsia of the past (poets and poet-prophets), Socrates laid no claim to wisdom, nor did he praise rulers. Pilloried by comic poets long before he was brought to trial, he compared himself to a gadfly whose job was to sting the state and its citizens. Although he did not seek office, yet during the brief terror of the Thirty Tyrants, he refused, under threat of death, to obey them. Unjustly condemned by the restored democracy in 399 BCE (“many a good man has been condemned because of prejudice”), he declined to flee. The slow nature of his virtue overtaken by the speed of their wickedness (Apology 39a: Reminding us of Gandhi who had translated this work into Gujarati).

How should one live? The question, signalling the entry of ethics into politics, is possible only in a democratic polity. Only in democracies can the self determine itself, becoming at last no less than the sum of its accidents. The classic separation of mind and body was designed to separate being from beings, contrasting the uncertainty about the self with the certainty of what it is not. Am I not as well what I seem most not to be? Not merely a disembodied soul but an embodied self (jiva)? Knowledge and care of the self still remains the goal of all our endeavours. Refashioning the oracular imperative — know thyself — the real Socratic question turns out to be not about him but about ourselves.