Be wise, be otherwise

One has to be wise, at times otherwise! I remember an Urdu couplet : “Khuddar itni fitratein rindana chahiye,/Saqi yeh khud kahey, tumhey paimana chahiye”. Translated it means: There should be such bold self- respecting urge in the drinker,/ That the lissom server, itself should say, that you need your glass!

Curse or embrace social media. The old adage, that, “The biggest fool can fox the utmost intellectual with the brightest of questions” has transformed to “a naughty social out-cast can smear the noblest with something, probably as closely indelible as the voter’s ink”. I am referring to the indelible ink that mark on the voters’ nail to show that he/she has voted and thus cannot vote again.

So how long does the ink mark last? Undoubtedly more than three months, if a full general election has to last for close to two months.

For those looking for shortcuts, the wise version is that the voter’s ink sinks into the nail cuticle, and shall remain so till a new nail grows. That time would be five to six months. Now here is the “otherwise”. The social media shall show you ample goggled, bald men, showing their nails “then” and “now”. No one knows whether that was the renowned Parker’s Waterman, and how many months passed between “then” and “now”. I suppose with a little crop of hair, and a stubble, whatever may have been done to the ink, the lack of sufficient change in the other stated biological markers (stubble, hair) would actually show the time duration. It’s the media, and we are living with it.

Talk of EVMs, the convenient and instant digital facility in today’s times. Talk of fudging. When was it that duplicate paper votes boxes loaded in trucks were the next in the relay, to carry forward prepared stuff to the counting- station? Irregularity is innate in human species. Some may take it lightly. I mean the “ink”.

I can understand an underslept returning officer mistakenly using his writing pen mistakenly on a shapely nail, further masked by a “purdah” leaving him confused, “If this is the cute nail, what would be the face”? Total blasphemy! In another incidence, a flashy face may distract his nib to the wrong pot! Surely, a few blinks later he shall come back to full alertness, and by the law of beverages, I suppose all contesting parties equalize such human errors!

To be fair to the “returning officer”, he has served the same machinery under various governments, where papers were found missing from the files, and at times files flew away from the window. In extreme cases, full sections of offices catch fire, mercifully, when he was asked to go on leave. Without batting an eyelid, it is always a “short circuit”— intensely proverbial, than obviously literal.

To pacify you on equality of such practices in all democracies, the Florida counting’s between George Bush Jr and Al Gore, were abruptly halted by Mr Bolton on behalf of the White House. There was stray news, that ballot papers were found strewn beside the railway tracts in Cleveland and Michigan. Take it as one of the many stories that arise when a democracy churns its wheels periodically. For that matter, big man Don Trump, and nine dan Mr Putin shall keep you busy for a full term, maybe a second one, of how much came from Russia with love!

Be it wise or otherwise, I have concerns for the ink used for election manifestos. Since overwriting, rewriting, erasing, shall amount to a loss of faith in the followers, even highlight hesitancy in the agenda, I declare my uncertainty in another type of ink used for printing election manifestos. Certain properties in fonts, bold types are understood. The ink has to have certain properties, only those in the business are qualified to specify.

It is believed, the more you promise, and how tactically you retort, with a stern EC on the watch, and public memory taking rounds on the social media, there are inks that evaporate with a whiff of “noble” gas. At times it is done by making an old-time legislature sit on the paper for a minute—sort of “gone with the wi…”. One of the many methods to prevent being blamed for at least part of the necessary indiscretions.

There is also a section in the manifesto, that instantly incites the voter to sacrifice his index finger for the smudge to stamp loyalty he proclaims for the party. Such changes generally take place on the eve of the voting day, or an hour or two past midnight. Half a year later, ink on that page can just be wished away, this time with a mixture of ethanol for the suspicious doubter, and the usual noble whiff on the page in the manifesto!

Have no doubts. Democracy is the best we can have, but there is nothing called an “honest” election if judged by priestly standards.

With five-sevenths of the process over tomorrow, here is a flash-back to show what was wise and otherwise, and how it is suitably adopted by the rivals.

There were communal issues, rebutted by talk of “nationalism”. Finally, there were holy boat rides, as the other party went soft on simulated vehemence on the atrocities to the holy cow. Devotion to all religions was on display, either by temple visits, or such attire.

For the first time, a fiery, indefatigable Indian PM and his first aide got notices from the EC. On the other hand (yes, I mean hand) “gathbandhan” was less frequently used. The vociferous campaign on asking proofs about Pulwana and Balakot, was found to displease certain youthful fence sitters, so encounters across LOC, in the previous coalition were to be publicized.

The promise of monetary benefits to farmers and backwards is mentioned not in the manner of annual corpus to be given, as announced earlier, but a comprehensive program called “NYAY”. Sounds good, as do the promises of the incumbents in polarizing their flock. But I told you about the two different “inks”. I hope all manifestos are on bond paper, and the EC now onwards takes up the job of certifying the various “inks”.

Honourable generals who have served the nation are being called in to recall from memory, or personal diaries whether such acts of aggression were held in the past by the challengers. It is an argument that may not last long—just serve and volley. One can’t fiddle with national security. A field placing not suited to the ball, as the incumbents are making a strong case on security issues.

The slog overs are likely to bring in meaningful discussions. The burden of a large population, inadequate infrastructure, high standards of education, health, and almost everything else!

To a lesser or greater extent, capitalism shall have to step in. It’s a devil of a thing, but it is the only damn thing that works. How this is managed, is the ingredient that the enlightened in India are looking for.

The surest message is, that everyone shall have to put his shoulder to push the cartwheel. The uphill task of reforming a nation’s work culture, a definite equation for a rising economy retaining the social fibre, is a mammoth agenda. Truly the top job is more of a challenge and hardship than envy.

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Some women written out of history books

In this world, where we talk of gender equality, let us also admit that this equality is more honored in its breach than in its observance. History is replete, nay, absolutely dumb about the achievements of the females- in fact for every one woman mentioned, hundreds are ignored. 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures’ highlighted pioneering women whose work had been forgotten, uncredited or stolen.

Everyone who contributed to Neil Armstrong’s milestone of becoming the first man to walk on the moon were celebrated during the historic event’s 50th anniversary, including women who for many years were left in the shadows.

The 2016 Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures” highlighted the role of black, female NASA mathematicians in the U.S. space race – a few of the pioneering women whose work had been forgotten, uncredited, or stolen by others. It is time to ensure that these ignored are given their due recognition. Since the number of such ignore women is humungous, let us do it selectively.

Here are 10 women who were written out of history books:

1. NASA’s Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were vital to the early U.S. space programme – including calculating trajectories for the Apollo 11 mission. But for decades their work was forgotten.

2. Physicist Lise Meitner helped to discover and explain nuclear fission, but her role was unacknowledged by her friend and collaborator Otto Hahn, who won the 1944 Nobel Prize for the breakthrough.

3. Scientist Rosalind Franklin was also denied a Nobel Prize. She played a pivotal role in the discovery of DNA’s structure, but her contribution was overlooked while her colleagues Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins shared a 1962 Nobel for the discovery.

4. Architect Denise Scott Brown saw her husband Robert Venturi handed the prestigious 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize, largely based on work they had done together. The prize committee in 2013 rejected a petition to retrospectively make it a joint award.

5. Gerda Taro was a pioneering female war photographer who died on the frontlines of the Spanish civil war in 1937, but her fame is eclipsed by her partner Robert Capa and on some occasions her photographs were credited to him.

6. Cells taken from U.S. cancer patient Henrietta Lacks helped the development of chemotherapy and other medical research. But she was not asked for permission and her story only became widely known through a 2010 book.

7. Artist Margaret Keane is known for her paintings of big-eyed children, but for years her husband Walter claimed the credit for her work. After their divorce, she took him to court and won recognition as the true artist.

8. Elizabeth Magie is often hailed as the uncredited inventor of Monopoly. Charles Darrow based the board game on Magie’s Landlord’s Game and then sold it as his own creation.

9. Composer Fanny Mendelssohn is far less well known than her brother Felix. She struggled to establish herself as a composer due to gendered social expectations in 19th century Germany, and a number of her works were published under her brother’s name.

10. U.S. computer scientist Katie Bouman played a leading role in capturing the ever photograph of a black hole in 2019 – but faced persistent critics on social media who tried to downplay the significance of her work.

And the expose continues…

Hydrogen Power -A Safe Alternative

A decade ago, hydrogen was heralded as an emerging clean energy source. But despite extensive promotion and governmental support from world leaders, including former US President Barack Obama, the use of hydrogen as an alternative energy source is not yet ubiquitous. This delay in adoption has largely been due to technology readiness and its associated high cost.

Technological progress

Hydrogen-based technology was not mature in 2008, and needed more time to undergo further efficiency improvements and cost reductions. During the past decade, significant financial resources have been spent on hydrogen energy research and development globally, allowing hydrogen to make a spectacular comeback. This time, it’s here to stay.

Global alliances

The growing environmental pollution and global governance initiatives, such as the 2015 Paris Agreement, support the case for adopting hydrogen as a clean and viable replacement for fossil fuels in transport, energy storage and power-to-gas applications. However, the transition to a hydrogen-based society will not be easy. It requires the development of a completely new infrastructure with consolidated action by various stakeholders, from equipment manufacturers and technology integrators to energy companies and government agencies.

On this front, the Hydrogen Council was formed at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017 in Davos to accelerate the scaling up of hydrogen technology and facilitate the societal adoption of hydrogen. Initial founders of the Hydrogen Council include many large multinational corporations, notably 3M, Air Liquide, Alstom, Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Toyota and Shell.

Dangerous or safe?

Despite consolidated efforts by several leading global companies, the adoption of hydrogen remains difficult. One major reason is the public perception of hydrogen safety. An anonymous social media survey that asked two related questions and garnered 483 responses showed mixed public views of hydrogen as a safe energy source.

Only 49.5% of respondents believed that hydrogen is generally safe, while 31.4% viewed hydrogen as generally dangerous. Among those who believed hydrogen is safe, about 9.1% regarded it as very safe, while of those who doubted its safety, 4.1% thought it was very dangerous. The survey drives home the message that more work is needed to change the public perspective of hydrogen.

Dangerous?

The view that “hydrogen is dangerous” is most likely influenced by certain historic accidents, including the infamous Hindenburg disaster. In 1937, a hydrogen-filled German passenger airship caught fire and was destroyed as it attempted to dock in New Jersey. Of the 97 people on board, 36 died.

The disaster was the subject of spectacular newsreel coverage, photographs and eyewitness accounts, and it effectively ended the era of the airship. The cause of the disaster remains a moot point. Several hypotheses have been put forward, including one claiming a static spark ignited hydrogen which caused the explosion.

A more contemporary catastrophe is the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger launch. A NASA space shuttle disintegrated after take-off, killing all seven people on board. The launch was broadcast live with footage replayed worldwide in subsequent news reports. Although investigations revealed that failed O-ring seals were the main culprit and that the presence of liquid oxygen contributed to the explosion, the sight of the Challenger disintegrating mid-air cemented the danger of harnessing hydrogen in millions of minds around the globe.

Safe?

The public perceives hydrogen as highly flammable and explosive. Although this is true, hydrogen is safer than most commonly used fuels. For instance, hydrogen needs a higher minimum concentration than most common fuels to burn. Measured by percentage volume in air, hydrogen requires 4% in air to be flammable, compared to 0.6% for diesel fuel, 1.4% for gasoline, 1.2% for propane, 3.3% for ethanol and 5% for methane.

In terms of auto-igniting temperature, methane and hydrogen are again winners, as in the absence of a flame or spark, they only start burning at 580°C and 550°C respectively. These auto-igniting temperatures are higher than those of diesel, gasoline, propane, and ethanol, which are 210°C, 260°C, 480°C, and 365°C.

Surprisingly, 73.2% of participants in the social media survey gave a positive response to the second question about “willingness to using hydrogen-powered modes of transportation”. This result seems to contradict answers to the first question, which found that only 49.5% support hydrogen as a safe energy source.

The intriguing result comes from the initial “dangerous” group, with about half willing to cast away their fears to use hydrogen-powered transport. The exact reason for this discrepancy is unknown and should be further examined. Perhaps small-scale hydrogen-based implementations are not deemed as dangerous. Also, prior knowledge that government agencies will only allow safe modes of public transport could have mitigated this fear.

The hydrogen generation market is expected to reach $199.1 billion by 2023 according to market research by Markets and Markets, while the global market for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles will reach about 583,360 units by 2030 in Asia Pacific Europe and North America, Frost & Sullivan forecasts. This rapidly growing hydrogen industry will further shape the public perception of hydrogen safety. It could be an interesting exercise to perform the above survey annually to evaluate the changing public perception of hydrogen safety with increasing market penetration.

China’s Plans for Global Empire Jump Start in Cambodia

The Communist Party of China is using its mix of rapid aggression and official denials to change the facts on the ground. China and Cambodia have signed a deal granting the Chinese military use of a naval base on Cambodia’s coast. This is the latest milestone in China’s quest to become a global military power.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story on July 22, noting that, while the Chinese and Cambodian governments have denied the reports, “United States and allied officials” obtained “an early draft” of the agreement and were certain that “a deal had been done.”

The agreement grants China’s People’s Liberation Army exclusive rights for 30 years to a 62-acre section of the Ream Naval Base, allowing it to station soldiers, weaponry and warships there.

Meanwhile, a state-run Chinese company is building an airport near Ream in Dara Sakor, Cambodia. Upon opening next year, it will be Cambodia’s largest airport, considerably larger than the international airport in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. China insists that the airport is strictly for commercial use. But satellite imagery shows that the runways being built there are far longer than those needed for commercial aircraft and of a suitable length for Chinese military transport aircraft and long-range fighter jets. China and Cambodia are clearly working toward a goal they have not publicly disclosed.

The capacity to launch military operations from the naval base and airport would considerably boost China’s power to enforce its claims of sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. A military presence on Cambodia’s coast would also increase China’s influence over the strategically vital Strait of Malacca, through which 90 percent of South China Sea crude oil shipments transit.

The Japan Times said that China’s foothold in Cambodia “would mark a critical moment in Southeast Asian security and potentially transform the regional security outlook.”

This transformation is partly because, since 2014, China has also constructed and militarized seven artificial islands in the South China Sea, mainly in the Spratly and Parcel chains. Adding a military position in Cambodia to China’s existing presence on these islands would give China a triangular perimeter around the entirety of mainland Southeast Asia.

“If you have a naval base in Cambodia, it means the Chinese Navy has a more favorable operational environment in the waters surrounding Southeast Asia,” Charles Edel, a former U.S. State Department official, told the Wall Street Journal. “You have all of a sudden mainland Southeast Asia potentially sitting behind a defensive Chinese military perimeter. This is by far the biggest implication.”

A Worrying Pattern

The denials from China regarding the deal also fit into a worrying historic pattern.

During its first several years of building artificial islands in the South China Sea, China’s ruling Communist Party repeatedly denied that they had any military purpose. In September 2015, for example, Chinese President Xi Jinping stood in the Rose Garden in the U.S. and promised that China did not plan to militarize the islands. “Relevant construction activity that China is undertaking in the Nansha Islands does not target or impact any country, and there is no intention to militarize,” he said, using the Chinese name for the Spratly archipelago. Even as it fortified and armed the islands, China continued to deny their obvious true purpose.

Likewise, the Chinese leadership vehemently denied having plans for foreign military bases, up until it opened its military base in the East African nation of Djibouti.

In both cases, China changed facts on the ground as it issued denials—until it was too late for other powers to challenge the new reality with anything short of a major diplomatic, economic or even military conflict. And the pattern seems to be playing out once again in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, told the Financial Times, “I’m afraid Cambodia is becoming a de facto Chinese colony.”

A Loss for the U.S.

United States officials have been taken aback by Cambodia’s decision to make itself a “de facto Chinese colony.” This is largely because the U.S. has invested considerable resources over the years into building up Cambodia and striving to win it over as a partner nation.

The U.S. has pumped billions of dollars into the nation for military assistance, education, poverty reduction and economic growth. It has helped train the Cambodian military and built defense installations there, including some facilities at the very same naval base that Cambodia is now opening up to China.

Despite all the spending and all those efforts, Cambodia is turning its back on the U.S. and giving China invaluable access to its territory.

One concerning way China’s foothold there could challenge U.S. power is in the event of an attack on American allies and partners in the region, such as Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Should one of these nations come under attack, some of the U.S. forces charged with defending them would normally transit the Strait of Malacca. But by using forces based in Cambodia, China could block or complicate such a passage.

The agreement with Cambodia represents the latest boost in China’s capacity to project military power around the world, at the expense of U.S might. This development simultaneously advances trends that are significant the coming together of the east, and the decline of the United States.

Cambodia’s decision to turn its back on the U.S. and invite China into its borders blows the catastrophic storm closer. When Asian nations such as Cambodia rally behind China today, they are laying the foundation for the empire of China being set up.

America’s might is eroding and that the country is heading for collapse. The Cambodians see that America is deeply divided, war-weary and seemingly ashamed of its power. As a result, as with several other Asian nations, it is rallying around China.

Ancient Greeks on Robotics and AI

Historians usually trace the idea of automata to the Middle Ages, when humans first invented self-moving devices, but the concept of artificial, lifelike creatures dates to the myths and legends from at least about 2,700 years ago, says Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar in the classics department in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University. These ancient myths are the subject of Mayor’s latest book, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology (Princeton University Press, 2018).

“Our ability to imagine artificial intelligence goes back to the ancient times,” says Mayor, who is also a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. “Long before technological advances made self-moving devices possible, ideas about creating artificial life and robots were explored in ancient myths.”

Mayor, a historian of science, says that the earliest themes of artificial intelligence, robots, and self-moving objects appear in the work of ancient Greek poets Hesiod and Homer, who were alive sometime between 750 and 650 BCE.

The story of Talos, which Hesiod first mentioned around 700 BCE, offers one of the earliest conceptions of a robot, Mayor says.

The myth describes Talos as a giant bronze man that Hephaestus, the Greek god of invention and blacksmithing, built. Zeus, the king of Greek gods, commissioned Talos to protect the island of Crete from invaders. He marched around the island three times every day and hurled boulders at approaching enemy ships.

At his core, the giant had a tube running from his head to one of his feet that carried a mysterious life source of the gods the Greeks called ichor. Another ancient text, Argonautica, which dates to the third century BCE, describes how sorceress Medea defeated Talos by removing a bolt at his ankle and letting the ichor fluid flow out, Mayor says.

The myth of Pandora, first described in Hesiod’s Theogony, is another example of a mythical artificial being, Mayor says. Although much later versions of the story portray Pandora as an innocent woman who unknowingly opened a box of evil, Mayor says Hesiod’s original described Pandora as an artificial, evil woman Hephaestus built and Zeus ordered to Earth to punish humans for discovering fire.

There is a timeless link between imagination and science.” “It could be argued that Pandora was a kind of AI agent,” Mayor says. “Her only mission was to infiltrate the human world and release her jar of miseries.”

In addition to creating Talos and Pandora, mythical Hephaestus made other self-moving objects, including a set of automated servants, who looked like women but were made of gold, Mayor says. According to Homer’s recounting of the myth, Hephaestus gave these artificial women the gods’ knowledge. Mayor argues that they could be considered an ancient mythical version of artificial intelligence.

The ancient myths that Mayor examined in her research grapple with the moral implications of Hephaestus’ creations.

“Not one of those myths has a good ending once the artificial beings are sent to Earth,” Mayor says. “It’s almost as if the myths say that it’s great to have these artificial things up in heaven used by the gods. But once they interact with humans, we get chaos and destruction.”

Mayor says the myths underscore humanity’s fascination with creating artificial life.

“People have an impulse to imagine things that aren’t possible yet,” Mayor says. “There is a timeless link between imagination and science.”

Key takeaways in Imran’s visit to the US

Many people who live in the US believe that Trump is a congenital liar. But that he’s also blunt with the truth. It’s obvious why he said that PM Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir.

It’s all about Afghanistan, stupid. For years, the Pakistanis have been repudiating the Americans for the Chinese. They have excluded the Americans from any Afghanistan-related meetings. But they have become as stuck in Afghanistan as the Americans. The Americans won’t leave Afghanistan until it is safe for them to do so.

The Pakistanis have offered the Americans a quid pro quo deal: get us Kashmir, and we’ll get you “extricated” out of Afghanistan safely. For years, the Americans weren’t listening. But now they realize that they are in a stalemate of the longest sorts. So Trump came up with his Modi-spoke-to-me ploy.

Modi is freshly reminted as India’s new ruler. Still, it would be suicidal for him to attempt any such thing with the Americans.

The other takeaway is that the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Bajwa, is headed for another extension of service. His current term ends in November. Not only was he in the meeting that Imran held with Trump in the White House, and not only was he received by a 21-gun salute at the Pentagon by the head of America’s military, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, but it is also also possible that he held a secret tete-a-tete with Trump.

The Americans know that he is the only power centre in Pakistan. It is unfathomable to presume that they wouldn’t have taken the opportunity to get Trump to hector him privately.

Much more importance was given to Bajwa as was accorded by them to Imran. If he was going to be a lame-duck chief, out on his way, the Americans would have waited for a new Pakistani army chief to come in before inviting him and Imran to the White House. After all, it’s only a matter of 2-3 months until November sets in. That the Americans invited Bajwa now, and that they accorded him such a rousing welcome, means that they want him to be in the saddle for the long haul.

And with the Americans holding the IMF’s purse strings of $6 billion in aid to Pakistan, and more in billions of their direct money in the pipeline, what the Americans want in Pakistan, they get.

Bajwa has turned out to be a ferocious turncoat. The previous Pakistani-army chief, Raheel Sharif, only boxed then-premier Nawaz Sharif in, not letting him meet foreign leaders of consequence whom he would meet himself, and even though he wanted an extension and also a promotion to the rank of field marshal for his role in curbing domestic terror through the Zarb-e-Azb military exercise, he left when Sharif gave him neither.

It’s also true that his exit was facilitated greatly by him securing the one million dollar a year job as head of the Sunni Islamic army in Saudi Arabia, where he still is.

It’s also a quirk of Pakistani politics that the elected head of the country, the prime minister, gets to select the army chief, who at once becomes the former’s boss and proceeds to humiliate him. But the Pakistani PM does get to select the army chief, albeit with pressure from the Americans, the Chinese, the Saudis, etc.

In June 2013, Nawaz Sharif had just become premier of Pakistan. Then-army chief Kayani, who had already received an extension of three years, was set to retire that November. He still reportedly wanted to serve as the country’s national security advisor, or at least the military’s in charge for Afghanistan. Nawaz, and I’m sure the incoming Pakistani army chief, Raheel Sharif, said no. Kayani was put to pasture.

Now Imran gets to choose the incoming army chief in November. It was once said that Allah, the army, and America ran Pakistan, but over the last several years, the influence of America has waned. In Nawaz’s last term as PM, the Pakistani economy was growing at a steady clip of 5%, but he was toppled by Bajwa, who installed Imran in his stead.

Nawaz was a businessman who knew how to manage the economy. Imran is a sportsperson and an insurgent. In his almost-one year in office, the economy has careened on his watch. He has been reduced to taking a begging bowl to the world. While the Saudis and the Emiratis have each promised him $3 billion, the Chinese have refused to extend their hand further beyond what they are already doling out to Pakistan through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Imran had no choice but to turn to the IMF. The IMF was holding out on him. Now of course with obvious American acquiescence, obvious because the Americans control the IMF, the IMF has promised Pakistan a $6 billion bailout. But what has been the immediate quid pro quo? Well, the Pakistanis are enabling talks between the Americans and the Taliban with great urgency, at least with much more urgency than they had before.

A quid is rewarded with a quo. The Pakistanis’ quid was enabling talks with the Taliban. The Americans’ quo was releasing IMF funds. But the Pakistanis, as is their wont, are overplaying their cards. They want the Americans to get them Kashmir, or at least much more of it than they already have. In the annals of diplomacy, it is often the norm during heads of government/state trips for the visiting leader to invite his host to make a reciprocal visit to the guests’ country. The host usually accepts the invitation without much to-do. When the “acceptance” is more serious, the host might add he looks forward to the return visit and his aides will say mutually acceptable dates will be worked out.

Imran Khan’s invitation to Donald Trump elicited both an unusual reply and a Pro-forma response from the US President. Trump first demurred when a Pakistani journalist asked him a question about a visit to Pakistan, saying he had not been invited yet by Imran Khan, and after the day’s talks, Khan may not invite him (suggesting he was going to do some tough talking). But then he added, “Yes, I’d love to go Pakistan at the right time.”

Pakistani officials went to town with the “acceptance” and it made headlines in the Pakistani media which has been thirsting for a visit after decades of being insulted and ignored. Both George Bush and Bill Clinton made fly-by-night visits appended to an India visit, and Obama simply skipped Pakistan when he visited India twice.

Given Trump’s (and Pakistan’s) track record so far, Islamabad can rest assured the “right time” will never come, even assuming Pakistan will meet Trump’s “do more” demands (which also Pakistani officials said was not made, although “do more” was written down in black and white in the White House fact sheet after the Trump-Imran Khan talks.)

There’s a simple reason why Trump is unlikely to visit Pakistan (or India for that matter) any time soon: He generally hates travelling abroad unless there is some Trump property or real estate interest involved. Specifically, the germophobe president does not travel to the developing world.

Remember, there is also a pending invitation to Trump from India. Like with Barack Obama, New Delhi was hoping to have him come and witness the Republic Day parade. Even though he is said to like military brass parading (his favourite fantasy down Pennsylvania Avenue) fat chance he will sit through six hours of Delhi pollution.

No surprise therefore that in two and half years in the White House, Trump has made ZERO bilateral trips to the developing world – unless you count the few steps he took across the demilitarized zone in Korea for ‘chai pe charcha’ with his bosom buddy Kim the former Killer. Oh yes, he did go to Vietnam in February this year and in 2017, but that was mainly for the Kim summit and the APEC meeting. And he did go to the Philippines in 2017, but that was for the ASEAN meeting and to meet his other killer buddy Rodrigo Duterte.

Otherwise, it has been all Europe and Japan and the rich world (including one trip to his biggest lender China).

Trump might have been calling their bluff in saying that he’ll speak to Modi. He’s a shrewd businessman. He might even place a call to Modi, who is sure to repudiate him. And then Trump can tell Imran and Bajwa, that was the end of that.

Cities Can Remove Loneliness

Do you feel lonely? If you do, you are not alone. While you may think it’s a personal mental health issue, the collective social impact is an epidemic. You may also underestimate the effects of loneliness. The health impact of chronic social isolation is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness is a global issue. Half-a-million Japanese are suffering from social isolation. The UK recently appointed a minister for loneliness, the first in the world. In Australia, Victorian state MP Fiona Patten is calling for the same here. Federal MP Andrew Giles, in a recent speech, said:I’m convinced we need to consider responding to loneliness as a responsibility of government. 

What do cities have to do with loneliness?

“The way we build and organise our cities can help or hinder social connection,” reads a Grattan Institute report.

Think of the awkward silence in a lift full of passengers who never communicate. Now think of a playground where parents often begin chatting. It’s not that the built environment “causes” interaction, but it can certainly either enable or constrain potential interaction.

Winston Churchill once observed that we shape the buildings and then the buildings shape us. I have written elsewhere about how architects and planners, albeit unwittingly, are complicit in producing an urban landscape that contributes to an unhealthy mental landscape.

Can we think of different ways to be in the city, of a different architecture that can “cure”loneliness?

Taking this question as a point of departure, I recently conducted a graduate design studio at the Melbourne School of Design. The students, using design as a research methodology, came up with potential architectural and urban responses to loneliness.

Have you ever waited at a rail station, killing time without engaging with the person next to you? Diana Ong retrofitted the Ascot Vale rail station with multiple “social engagement paraphernalia” to promote conversations and activity. Michelle Curnow proposed to convert railway carriages into “sensory experience cabins” that attract people to explore the in-built gallery spaces and listen to other people’s stories while commuting. Who said commuting had to be boring? 

Having a pet is one of the most effective ways to tackle loneliness, but often people don’t have enough time to care for one. Zi Ye came up with “Puppy Society”, an app that connects a pet with multiple owners. The dogs are housed in a shared facility where the owners come to pet the dog. 

Denise Chan studied the Melbourne CBD laneways and found many of them are quite dead, despite being an icon of Melburnian liveliness. She reimagined the laneways revitalised with community plant gardens, book nooks and furniture to entice people to enter them and connect, say, during office lunch hours.

Are you one of those people who have a hard time eating alone? Fanhui Ding is, and she came up with a student-run restaurant for the University of Melbourne. Students get credit working on the aquaponic farms that supply the restaurant, which can be used to pay for a meal. People also get discounts for dining at the same table, encouraging students to interact over food. Given the many international students who suffer from loneliness, her concept used cooking, food and farming as therapeutic activity.

Beverley Wang looked at loneliness in the ageing population. She came up with a project called “Nurture”, for which she designed a kindergarten co-housed with a nursing home. Designing spaces for storytelling, she brought the elderly into the kindergarten as informal learning aides, giving them a sense of purpose.

There is an utterly different kind of loneliness that accompanies the loss of a loved one. Malak Moussaoui, taking note of this, designed an installation that grows flowers on itself to be inserted into cemeteries. Instead of just buying some flowers on the way, Malak’s design is meant to bring people together, introduce flower gardening as a therapeutic measure and give people spaces to mourn together. They might then meet other people who share similar stories of loss and connect. 

Other students tackled more familiar cases, such as designing more social interaction spaces in high-rise apartment buildings and redesigning supermarkets to make them places for people to visit on a Sunday morning. The student work can be viewed here.

Moving beyond merely analysing the problems, the research output shows that an alternative, less lonely future is indeed possible. Without claiming to solve loneliness, design can be a important tool in response to it.

UK Gets Bojo- the maverick it needs

 India needed Modi to instill the spirit of nationalism, stagnant US needed Trump to revive the economy and UK needs Bojo to fight Brexit war. In the London that is familiar to me — socially liberal, professionally successful, well-networked and astonishingly multicultural — almost every second person has a Boris story to narrate. Dating back to his Oxford days and meandering through his chequered life as one of Britain’s best-paid columnists, Mayor of London and Foreign Secretary — they tell the tale of a man who is fiendishly clever, outrageously funny and devilishly unscrupulous.

That Boris Johnson, now Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is quite a character and entirely unforgettable is undeniable. Yet — and maybe this is a consequence being a bit too familiar with too many journalists — he is also thoroughly unloved. They hate him for his effortless brilliance, for his brinkmanship and, above all, for the ability to invariably land on his feet. To have a good word for Boris in some quarters is almost akin to lauding Narendra Modi in the Khan Market bubble.

The loathing is confined to a certain ecosystem. Others seem to like what they see. In the leadership election, he won the support of a majority of Conservative Party MPs and, more significantly, the endorsement of nearly two-thirds of the party’s ordinary members. Boris connects — both with the Shires of Middle England and with cosmopolitan London. At a time when both the country and the government are confronted with a profound existential dilemma over fulfilling (or scrapping) the popular mandate of 2016 for Brexit, flamboyant leadership — particularly the ability to take risks — is what Britain needs. It is Britain’s Churchill moment: it can either win the Brexit war in the next 100 days or wilt before Europe’s collective might.

From a distance, the issues and the negotiations appear terribly convoluted and confusing. The larger issue that Boris has to tackle on a war footing are, however, clear — though not easy.

The first is the issue of the popular mandate. In the summer of 2016, British voters were asked to choose whether they wanted the country to either remain in the European Union or leave it. In a referendum that was marked by a high turnout, a clear majority voted to leave the EU. The results were unanticipated and there was no contingency planning by the British government over how Brexit was to be negotiated. Indeed, there was a sharp conflict between the British Establishment — that included industry, the financial sector, academia, media and the bureaucracy — and popular sentiment. The Establishment egged on the idea of a second referendum that would give British voters a chance to do a U-turn.

When Boris Johnson became Britain’s Prime Minister on July 24th, 2019, the odds were phenomenally against him being able to deliver on his promise to get Britain out of the European Union by October 31st. It didn’t seem possible given the odds against it in Parliament. The most probable outcomes were a vote of no-confidence if he insisted, and a total disgrace and exit from office if he failed to deliver. What a difference a few days make.

Boris has brought the one thing that the odds didn’t figure in: the psychological power of can-do optimism and grit. His surprising bulldog aggression to get it done despite impossible odds, the muscles he is flexing at the EU by refusing to negotiate except on his own terms, the team of single-minded “Britain Can Do It” Brexiteers he has put together as his Cabinet of Ministers, has brought one thing to the table that made no-deal Brexit so impossible to push through without breaking the political system: the psychology of confidence. 

It is affecting the voters and sitting MPs, creating excitement, courage, relief, hope if they’re for Brexit or unsure, and intimidating them or sending them into impotent apoplexy if they’re against Brexit.

It is still quite probable that Boris won’t be able to push it through by October 31st. And not delivering a clean Brexit by the 31st will almost certainly sink Boris Johnson. The only way he survives failing the Oct 31st deadline is if the voters see that neither he nor anyone else could have done more and the thing now is to give him more Leave MPs.

So that’s what he’s going to do, is doing. His strategy is to put voters in a state of mind not to drive him from office but to go to the polls and vote him a big Brexit majority in Parliament. In that case, Boris will sweep and get Brexit done with a comfortable majority in Parliament in short order.

One way or the other Britain will be out of the EU, and in the way that it has to be: With the restoration of the power and effectiveness of British Government and the restoration of the trust of British Voters in their own leadership. After all, that’s the whole objective of Brexit. Theresa May couldn’t free Britain from the Brussels Politburo because she, her cabinet, and parliament didn’t want to take over the responsibility of leading Britain. For so long had Britain been run from Brussels that British politics had lost the vision, the gumption, the enthusiasm of Great Britain as a sovereign nation.

Boris Johnson has swept aside the wet-fish politics fostered in Britain by EU membership and shown the powerful, pugnacious, optimistic leadership that Sovereign Britain needs, now to deal with the EU, and after Brexit to captain Britannia as she sails into the Brave New World. Brexit is going to happen.

What led to the removal of former Prime Minister Theresa May was her inability to negotiate an acceptable Brexit. She conveyed the impression that she would be happy with an emasculated Brexit, a situation that put the UK outside the EU but subject to control by Brussels. This was unacceptable to the Conservative Party which has a wafer-thin working majority.

Boris has been chosen to be Prime Minister for his commitment to take the UK out of the EU, through a negotiated deal if possible or even unilaterally. He has given himself 100 days to accomplish his mission and fulfil the referendum mandate. He will need to use every trick in the book, including bypassing Parliament, to manage Brexit, and in the face of determined subterfuge by the Establishment that wants to overturn the referendum result.

It is going to be a riveting three months, not merely because the challenge is so daunting but because the issue is more than Brexit. What Boris is attempting to do is to recover national sovereignty for the British, sovereignty that had been partially conceded to the EU.

This isn’t as simple as it sounds. The EU was much more than a seamless market. It was a project that sought to undermine the basis of nationalism through a process of ceded sovereignty. Although the UK never committed itself fully to this enterprise, it has allowed crucial areas of sovereignty to vest in Brussels. Brexit seeks to regain full independence for the UK, including the full right to determine who lives and works in the country and the terms of its trade with the world. The pro-Brexit lobby sees the exit from the EU as a bid to restore the economic greatness of the UK, maybe even turn it into another Singapore. They believe the UK will prosper with free trade agreements with the US, the Old Commonwealth and even India.

It is a romantic dream that can only be undertaken by a leader who can mesmerise with his words, just as Churchill did. Britain needed a maverick and got one

Economics needs to revert to the drawing board

Since the 2008 financial crisis, economic orthodoxies have been collapsing left and right. Under conditions of low unemployment, elusive inflation, weak productivity growth, and high profitability, economists in advanced economies may need to go back to the drawing board.

Though economics aspires to the rigor of the natural sciences, at the end of the day it is still a social science. At no point in the past 40 years has this been more evident than it is now.

For decades, conventional macroeconomic analysis has rested on the edifice of the Phillips curve, which asserts a clear tradeoff between unemployment and inflation: when the unemployment rate falls below a certain point, inflation must rise. But this assumption has not been borne out in the decade since the 2008 financial crisis. In both the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, the unemployment rate is historically low, yet inflation remains weak.

Or consider monetary policy. Even after years of quantitative easing (QE) and ultra-low interest rates, central bankers in the advanced economies – particularly the eurozone – have continued to undershoot their inflation targets. Economists have also had to question long-held assumptions about downward nominal wage rigidity, an artifact of the 1960-70s, when organized labor was much stronger. Clearly, the idea that employees will always resist cutting wages (or workers’ hours) no longer applies.

In fact, the declining power of labor may explain why the Phillips curve no longer seems to hold true. But, even more important, it could be the reason why measured productivity remains persistently weak. After all, companies that can easily hire and fire employees or force them to adjust their price point have little reason to risk vast sums on new buildings and equipment that might not even be used until the next business cycle. If this is the case, one solution to the productivity problem is simply to make labor markets less flexible and labor less cheap. If business leaders and economists object to that, perhaps they should stop prattling on about productivity all the time.

Another big theoretical assumption, particularly at the micro level, is that strong profit growth will attract new entrants to the market, thereby spreading profits more broadly at the expense of the previous incumbent. And this, in turn, should encourage more investment, thereby boosting productivity and wages for workers. But again, there is little evidence of this assumption being borne out in recent years. To the contrary, corporate profits and market concentration are both on the rise.

What explains this conundrum? It is not that Karl Marx was right all along that capitalism is doomed to fail. Rather, it is the result of particular developments in financial markets, regulatory policies, and incentive systems in the era since the 2008 financial crisis. Clearly, it has become far too easy for dominant market players to resist competition. But there are many ideas floating around that might address that problem. One issue is stock buybacks, which may be allowing corporate executives to boost their own earnings without having to invest in productivity gains.

Fortunately, politicians of all stripes have begun to question why current tax and regulatory policies seem to be encouraging such behavior. As a general principle, companies that are not contributing to productivity growth or helping to solve broader social challenges shouldn’t be enjoying a free lunch. The British construction company Persimmon, for example, has been posting higher earnings not because of investments it made, but because the UK government introduced a special loan scheme for first-time homebuyers. And most of the major pharmaceutical firms now seem to show an interest in research and development only when they are buying a new drug and need to conduct clinical trials to secure exclusive rights to it.

Finally, at the global level, the biggest challenge to economic orthodoxy is the continuing growth of China since it launched its policy of economic “opening up” in the Deng Xiaoping era. There is growing evidence to suggest that the US will do almost anything to stop China’s rise, even if it means denying prosperity to the Chinese people.

Those who have closely followed China’s development over the past 40 years know that a significant dose of capitalist ideology has seeped into the country’s nominally communist political economy. But this fact seems to have eluded more ideologically predisposed Western economists.

Indeed, as Singaporean economist Kishore Mahbubani noted recently in The Straits Times, America’s hardline approach to the Chinese tech company Huawei appears to be driven wholly by ideology. Rather than adopting a more measured strategy to ensure that the company (and others like it) abides by mutually agreed global rules, US President Donald Trump has made it a bargaining chip in his trade war. Do we should all be worried!

No Western construct: Responsibility to Protect is a response to a moral failing

In 2014, Narendra Modi’s alleged complicity in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 was dredged up by his domestic and international critics. This year, Modi relentlessly highlighted Congress complicity in Delhi’s anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984. Both tragedies underline the crucial role of governments in protecting peoples and the difficulty of obtaining closure without accountability for atrocity perpetrators. Rahul Gandhi was right to demand an apology from Sam Pitroda for the insensitive ‘hua to hua’ dismissal of the emotional pain of Sikhs.

In 1971, India’s Bangladesh intervention was widely criticised in the international community. Today, under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, India would receive UN blessing for similar action. R2P is an acceptance of a duty of care by all who live in zones of safety towards those trapped in zones of life-threatening danger. Endorsed unanimously in 2005, this responsibility is vested in all states individually and in the Security Council collectively.

The principle was first formulated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001. I was one of the 12 commissioners and one of the three authors of the Commission’s report. The Indian government, like many developing countries, was hostile to the project. Yet a tyrant does not discriminate on grounds of race, religion or gender but is an equal opportunity offender. Political rule based in terror is a universal moral failing. The Genocide Convention converted the moral revulsion of the Holocaust – a failure of Western civilisation – into a binding universal norm. R2P is not a Western attempt to interfere in other people’s problems, but a global attempt to deal with a Western-origin problem. The Eurocentric Westphalian system of sovereign states sanctified the ability of tyrants to rule by terror free from external checks. R2P gives us a countervailing universal norm to ban and stop atrocities.

The persistent criticism, that R2P articulates an updated neo-colonial White Man’s burden, can itself be racist. It denies agency to developing countries, reducing them to victims. It denies their people the right to good governance, exposing them to the tender mercies of thug-rulers. It ignores the origins of R2P in the demands for protection by atrocity victims in Rwanda in Africa, Kosovo in Europe, and East Timor in Asia-Pacific, and in the norm entrepreneurship of people from the global South in developing the principle.

It also ignores Afro-Asian indigenous traditions that hold rulers owe duties to subjects in return for their allegiance. India is especially rich in this regard. Emperor Ashoka inscribed the following R2P forerunner on a rock edict in the third century BCE: ‘This is my rule: government by the law, administration according to the law, gratification of my subjects under the law, and protection through the law.’ The chapters on directive principles of state policy and fundamental rights in India’s Constitution foreshadow to a remarkable degree the positive and negative obligations of commission and omission under R2P.

After the killings of Gujarat Muslims in 2002, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee pointedly reminded CM Modi of every ruler’s rajdharma. In the Sajjan Kumar verdict last December, Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel highlighted the many cases in which the state had failed in its responsibility to protect all peoples under its jurisdiction: Delhi 1984, Gujarat 2002, Mumbai 1993, Kandhamal (Odisha) 2008, Muzaffarnagar 2013, etc.

In the brutal climax of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee reminded Colombo of its responsibility to protect all citizens. However, on May 13, the Secretary-General’s special advisers on genocide prevention and R2P issued a needlessly inflammatory statement on Sri Lanka, interpreting Islamic State’s Easter Sunday terrorist attacks through the R2P prism. Sri Lanka’s UN ambassador was right to call them out.

Because the security situation in many countries around India is fragile and may necessitate intervention in the future, in R2P India’s national interests converge with global political values. This is why, to keep faith with its own rich heritage, India should be a leading champion of R2P, not a critic or sceptic.

Sunday Special: Cities, not States, Can Solve Intractable Problems

Let us accept the fact that the major issues facing the world are not for Sovereign states to solve. Because of their human aspect, it is community and cities that solve these problems- the Federal & Provincial governments can only either mismanage them or push them under the carpet. The 21st century should belong to cities like Mumbai, which has a bigger economy than Pakistan or Bangladesh. 

Cities, not nation-states, are the dominant form of human civilization in the 21st century. Humanity transitioned from a rural to a primarily urban species – homo urbanis – at breathtaking speed. In the early 1800s, less than 3% of the world’s population lived in cities; today, more than half of the global population is urban and by 2050, the proportion will rise to three quarters.

There are thousands of small and medium-sized cities along with more than 30 megacities and sprawling, networked metropolitan areas — conurbations — with 15 million residents or more. Yet despite these massive transformations in how people live and interact, our international affairs are still largely dictated by nation-states, not cities. This is neither fair nor tenable. 

Cities are beginning to flex their muscles on the international stage. They are already displacing nation-states as the central nodes of the global economy, generating close to 80% of global GDP. Cities like New York and Tokyo are bigger in GDP terms than many G-20 countries.

Metropolitan regions and special economic zones are linking global cities through transnational supply chains. A growing number of mega-regions, such as those linking cities in Mexico and the US, transcend borders. In the process, cities are collectively forging common regional plans, trading partnerships, and infrastructure corridors. 

The spectacular rise of cities did not happen by accident. Cities channel creativity, connect human capital, and when well-governed, drive growth.

Cities need to step up politically 

Cities represent humanity’s most realistic hope of collective survival, not least when it comes to reversing and mitigating climate change and renewing democracy. Many enlightened and open-minded mayors are stepping up even as national politicians step back. Working in partnership with business and academia, a number of them are embracing robust environmental standards, welcoming new migrants, and aggressively promoting diversity and tolerance. 

This is in stark contrast to an alarming number of national leaders who are fuelling xenophobia, bigotry and polarization. To make matters worse, nation-states are weakening: the expedited flow of ideas, capital and people and the impact of new technologies are corroding their authority and legitimacy. 

Although a growing number of large cities are punching above their weight economically, most of them still lack real political power. This is to some extent by design. Until recently, cities were systematically excluded from international decision-making. The UN, for example, routinely left cities out of debates on urban development, migration, health and security. So have most countries, including on issues critical to urban areas. 

Cities also have struggled to secure credit, loans and grants from international financial institutions, including the World Bank. Despite trends toward devolution and decentralization in North America and Western Europe, nation-states are still reluctant to cede real power to sub-national authorities. As a result, many cities lack constitutional authority and legal discretion to take crucial decisions.

This deficit in political power is even more glaring among cities in low and middle-income countries, especially South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. In many emerging markets, political power is intensely concentrated in the federal government with municipal authorities appointed by the executive. Yet it is precisely these fast-growing cities that will require greater authority to act locally – not least owing to the unregulated nature of urbanization. 

Urban populations in Asia and Africa alone are expected to swell by another 2.5 billion by 2050, compared to just 170 million in upper-income countries. Yet many city leaders in these regions are effectively ciphers with no real latitude. In Mumbai, for example, hardly anyone knows the mayor or what he does since real power is vested in the office of Maharashtra state’s chief minister. The chief minister also lacks any political incentives to transfer power to an elected and ambitious mayor.

The case of Mumbai is instructive. This sprawling city of 18.5 million people is an economic goliath with an annual GDP of $310 billion. Mumbai alone has a bigger economy than Pakistan or Bangladesh. The city generates roughly two-thirds of the wealth of Maharashtra yet registers just 20% of the state’s voters. Not surprisingly, national and state politicians suffer limited electoral pain (and often win elections) when extracting revenues from Mumbai and redistributing resources to other regions. 

But transferring more decision-making power from the state to the elected city government is crucial not just for the survival of Mumbai, but for that of the state and nation too. There are a few ways in which this process could be expedited, including a powerful, bottom-up demand by Mumbai residents to change the status quo; recognition by politicians that the urban voter is a viable political constituency; and, the judicial route, where the supreme court forces a devolution of power to urban local bodies. 

Inter-city networks to the rescue 

Given the economic might of cities, it’s surprising they don’t exercise more of their soft power. But change is coming: one way that cities are augmenting their political power in national and global arenas is by forging inter-city coalitions.

The last few decades have seen an explosion of city networks – more than 300 at last count – addressing everything from urban governance and trade to climate and safety. Around 100 of them are international and they are helping cities to amplify their voices on the international stage. 

In the realm of climate change, there is the C40 Climate Cities network, a group of 80 cities founded 10 years ago by three mayors (London’s Ken Livingstone, Toronto’s David Miller and New York’s Michael Bloomberg). The C40 helps cities decarbonize, facilitates opportunities to exchange best practices, and leapfrog old technologies. 

As of 2018, the network has enabled more than 9,100 cities representing 780 million people to agree on a global pact to meet – and ideally exceed – the Paris Climate Agreement targets. There are already 8,000 cities that have set up solar power farms, more than 1,000 relying on hydroelectric power and more than 300 that are almost entirely dependent on renewable energy. 

When it comes to public security, there is the European Forum for Urban Security (EFUS) and the Strong Cities network, both working to promote evidence-based approaches to crime prevention and the fight against radicalization and extremism. An exciting new politics of empowered cities is emerging in which metropolitan leaders and urban residents are demanding a seat at the decision-making table. 

Cities are on the frontline of most contemporary global threats, including sea-level rise, growing air pollution, deepening inequality, mass migration and terrorism. Mayors and urban residents cannot afford to be complacent in the wake of massive floods, storm surges and the salinization of land. 

More fundamentally, cities – especially large global cities – have always been the vanguard of openness, pushing for open borders, markets, societies and minds. Most modern progressive social movements originated in cities precisely because they instinctively accommodate difference, disagreement and diversity. They reshape democratic governance from below. 

There are also signs of cities pushing back against the reactionary nationalism and populism that is spreading around the world. From Brazil and the US to Hungary and Poland, nationalist politicians are seeking to tighten borders, restrict in-migration and push back against diversity. 

Large and medium-sized cities — especially in North America and Western Europe — are forging networks of solidarity across international and national boundaries. These glimmers of soft power are not abstract: they involve practical actions ranging from expanding investment in renewables and reducing inequality; to offering sanctuary to new arrivals, including migrants and refugees. 

This burst of city networking is promising but still insufficient to truly scale cities’ soft power to address the world’s most pressing challenges. In 2016, a Global Parliament of Mayors was created to help cities assert their political authority and drive metropolitan innovation. While only in its third year, this year it assembled close to 100 mayors in Bristol, in alliance with the 1,400 members of the US Conference of Mayors, to agitate for change on issues of migration, health and security. 

The parliament may prove a nimble and flexible force in an era where existing multilateral structures are struggling to address global threats. In addition, it could potentially help hasten greater devolution of power in Asia and Africa.

Cities and their networks are helping rewire the circuitry of global affairs. Mayors are increasing diplomacy, not just between cities, but also with international institutions. In ideal cases, they are working with regional and national counterparts. Where necessary, cities are side-stepping them altogether. 

The affirmation of greater urban sovereignty and city rights are central to progressive change. While the 21st century ought to belong to cities, the path ahead is rocky and uncertain. There are no easy solutions to our most pressing problems, many of which will play out in cities. The challenges of city governance, especially the attainment of greater devolution, in developing countries are particularly intractable and will require incredible ingenuity to address. 

That many cities and their residents are rolling up their sleeves and getting things done — where nations have failed — are grounds for optimism. In the future, we hope that it is not so much presidents and prime ministers that will define our fates — but our proximate, accountable, and empowered city leaders.

The Ancient Connections Between Atheism, Buddhism and Hinduism

A group of atheists and secularists recently gathered in Southern California to talk about social and political issues. To many, atheism—the lack of belief in a personal god or gods—may appear an entirely modern concept. After all, it would seem that it is religious traditions that have dominated the world since the beginning of recorded history.

I’m often struck by the prevalence of atheism and agnosticism—the view that it is impossible to know whether a god exists—in ancient Asian texts. Atheistic traditions have played a significant part in Asian cultures for millennia.

Atheism in Buddhism, Jainism

While Buddhism is a tradition focused on spiritual liberation, it is not a theistic religion.

The Buddha himself rejected the idea of a creator god, and Buddhist philosophers have even argued that belief in an eternal god is nothing but a distraction for humans seeking enlightenment.

While Buddhism does not argue that gods don’t exist, gods are seen as completely irrelevant to those who strive for enlightenment.

A similar form of functional atheism can also be found in the ancient Asian religion of Jainism, a tradition that emphasises non-violence toward all living beings, non-attachment to worldly possessions, and ascetic practice. While Jains believe in an eternal soul, or jiva, that can be reborn, they do not believe in a divine creator.

According to Jainism, the universe is eternal, and while gods may exist, they too must be reborn, just like humans are. The gods play no role in spiritual liberation and enlightenment; humans must find their own path to enlightenment with the help of wise human teachers.

Other atheistic philosophies

Around the same time when Buddhism and Jainism arose in the sixth century BC, there was also an explicitly atheist school of thought in India called the Carvaka school. Although none of their original texts have survived, Buddhist and Hindu authors describe the Carvakas as firm atheists who believed that nothing existed beyond the material world.

To the Carvakas, there was no life after death, no soul apart from the body, no gods and no world other than this one.

Another school of thought, Ajivika, which flourished around the same time, similarly argued that gods didn’t exist, although its followers did believe in a soul and in rebirth.

The Ajivikas claimed that the fate of the soul was determined by fate alone, and not by a god, or even by free will. The Ajivikas taught that everything was made up of atoms, but that these atoms were moving and combining with each other in predestined ways.

Like the Carvaka school, the Ajivika school is today only known from texts composed by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is therefore difficult to determine exactly what the Ajivikas themselves thought.

According to Buddhist texts, the Ajivikas argued that there was no distinction between good and evil and there was no such thing as sin. The school may have existed around the same time as early Buddhism, in the fifth century BC.

Atheism in Hinduism

While the Hindu tradition of India embraces the belief in many gods and goddesses—330 million of them, according to some sources—there are also atheistic strands of thought found within Hinduism.

There are many gods in Hinduism, but there are also atheistic beliefs.

The Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy is one such example. It believes that humans can achieve liberation for themselves by freeing their own spirit from the realm of matter.

Another example is the Mimamsa school. This school also rejects the idea of a creator God. The Mimamsa philosopher Kumarila said that if a god had created the world by himself in the beginning, how could anyone else possibly confirm it? Kumarila further argued that if a merciful god had created the world, it could not have been as full of suffering as it is.

According to the 2011 census, there were approximately 2.9 million atheists in India. Atheism is still a significant cultural force in India, as well as in other Asian countries influenced by Indian religions.

Implications of China Technological Prowess

If the successful launch of Chandrayaan-2 is seen as a response to China surging ahead in space, a look at how China fares in the overall tech race is illuminating. Beijing has invested billions of dollars in recent years to develop the civilian and military applications of emerging technologies such as 5G, semiconductors, microchips, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and others to transform the country from an assembly line of low tech manufactured goods into the preeminent economic and technological power manufacturing high tech goods.

Though China has made impressive progress in exploiting several applications, claims being made in some international media that China will be the world leader in these technologies in a few years, are exaggerated and premature. Large Chinese investments have not always translated into technological successes. However, India has to take note of China’s achievements in critical technologies given our adversarial strategic relationship.

China has made an early start in setting up the 5G infrastructure and decided to roll out this technology from 2020, the second country after South Korea. In AI, China has progressed in facial and image recognition, manufacturing drones and robots; on the military side, China is researching air, land, sea and undersea autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles which can assist in reconnaissance and attacks on enemy aircraft and vessels. China’s army is trying to use advances in quantum radar and sensing to gain advantages in stealth technology. Its navy is trying to develop a quantum compass for its submarines which would not require satellite based navigation.

In semiconductors and microchips the Chinese story has, so far, been more of failures than successes. Since the 1990s, it has made numerous efforts to design and fabricate its own chips investing billions of dollars in several companies but mostly not succeeded. China imports about 80% of its microchip requirement; in 2017, it spent $260 billion on imports of semiconductors and chips, more than its imports of crude oil. China is aggressively continuing with its chip making efforts trying to acquire foreign technologies through outright purchase, joint venture, stealth and local innovation; it is believed that China will take about 20 years to reach the current levels of chip specialisation in the West.

In AI, lot of credit for China’s successes goes to American and other non-Chinese researchers and companies. According to a Tsinghua University study, more than half of China’s AI papers were international joint publications. All the software development of Chinese drone maker DJI is performed at DJI’s American office. China’s strength is mainly in AI applications and it is still weak in core technologies of AI, such as hardware and algorithm development.

In quantum computing also, many problems remain unresolved such as mastering materials use, quantum chip design and manufacturing; also the development of a functional quantum computer remains several years away. From here on, progress in these technologies will be slowed down by a number of factors. The US has started denying access to leading Chinese companies in its market, imposed restraints on Chinese students studying robotics, aerospace, semiconductors and quantum computing in US universities, and is urging its allies and friends not to allow Chinese companies in their countries for national security reasons.

However, compared to India, China has made considerable progress in developing several applications of these technologies which will impinge on our economy, defence and foreign policy. India will have to live with a much stronger and aggressive China whose economy is already five times bigger than ours.

Its military will become even more challenging with new weapons in cyber warfare, missiles, drone and robot technologies, space, stealth and quantum technology based platforms. India’s investments and research programmes in these technologies are presently at an incipient stage, very far behind those of China. Our political leadership, defence establishment, scientific and academic institutions, and industry have to work together and craft a suitable strategy to jointly develop select applications at an accelerated pace, to defend our critical interests.

If we lag behind too much, it will lead to further erosion of India’s economic and military standing and marginalisation of India’s position in the regional and global power matrix.

Saturday Special: Rise & Fall of Arabic Scientific Scholarship

What prompted scientific scholarship to flourish where and when it did? What were the conditions that incubated these important Arabic-speaking scientific thinkers? There is, of course, no single explanation for the development of Arabic science, no single ruler who inaugurated it, no single culture that fueled it. As historian David C. Lindberg puts it in The Beginnings of Western Science (1992), Arabic science thrived for as long as it did thanks to “an incredibly complex concatenation of contingent circumstances.”

Scientific activity was reaching a peak when Islam was the dominant civilization in the world. So one important factor in the rise of the scholarly culture of the Golden Age was its material backdrop, provided by the rise of a powerful and prosperous empire. By the year 750, the Arabs had conquered Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and much of North Africa, Central Asia, Spain, and the fringes of China and India. Newly opened routes connecting India and the Eastern Mediterranean spurred an explosion of wealth through trade, as well as an agricultural revolution.

For the first time since the reign of Alexander the Great, the vast region was united politically and economically. The result was, first, an Arab kingdom under the Umayyad caliphs (ruling in Damascus from 661 to 750) and then an Islamic empire under the Abbasid caliphs (ruling in Baghdad from 751 to 1258), which saw the most intellectually productive age in Arab history. The rise of the first centralized Islamic state under the Abbasids profoundly shaped life in the Islamic world, transforming it from a tribal culture with little literacy to a dynamic empire. To be sure, the vast empire was theologically and ethnically diverse; but the removal of political barriers that previously divided the region meant that scholars from different religious and ethnic backgrounds could travel and interact with each other. Linguistic barriers, too, were decreasingly an issue as Arabic became the common idiom of all scholars across the vast realm.

The spread of empire brought urbanization, commerce, and wealth that helped spur intellectual collaboration. Maarten Bosker of Utrecht University and his colleagues explain that in the year 800, while the Latin West (with the exception of Italy) was “relatively backward,” the Arab world was highly urbanized, with twice the urban population of the West. Several large metropolises — including Baghdad, Basra, Wasit, and Kufa — were unified under the Abbasids; they shared a single spoken language and brisk trade via a network of caravan roads. Baghdad in particular, the Abbasid capital, was home to palaces, mosques, joint-stock companies, banks, schools, and hospitals; by the tenth century, it was the largest city in the world.

As the Abbasid empire grew, it also expanded eastward, bringing it into contact with the ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Chinese, and Persian civilizations, the fruits of which it readily enjoyed. (In this era, Muslims found little of interest in the West, and for good reason.) One of the most important discoveries by Muslims was paper, which was probably invented in China around a.d. 105 and brought into the Islamic world starting in the mid-eighth century. The effect of paper on the scholarly culture of Arabic society was enormous: it made the reproduction of books cheap and efficient, and it encouraged scholarship, correspondence, poetry, recordkeeping, and banking.

The arrival of paper also helped improve literacy, which had been encouraged since the dawn of Islam due to the religion’s literary foundation, the Koran. Medieval Muslims took religious scholarship very seriously, and some scientists in the region grew up studying it. Avicenna, for example, is said to have known the entire Koran by heart before he arrived at Baghdad. Might it be fair, then, to say that Islam itself encouraged scientific enterprise? This question provokes wildly divergent answers. Some scholars argue that there are many parts of the Koran and the hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) that exhort believers to think about and try to understand Allah’s creations in a scientific spirit. As one hadithurges, “Seek knowledge, even in China.” But there are other scholars who argue that “knowledge” in the Koranic sense is not scientific knowledge but religious knowledge, and that to conflate such knowledge with modern science is inaccurate and even naïve.

The Gift of Baghdad

But the single most significant reason that Arabic science thrived was the absorption and assimilation of the Greek heritage — a development fueled by the translation movement in Abbasid Baghdad. The translation movement, according to Yale historian and classicist Dimitri Gutas, is “equal in significance to, and belongs to the same narrative as … that of Pericles’ Athens, the Italian Renaissance, or the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” Whether or not one is willing to grant Gutas the comparison, there is no question that the translation movement in Baghdad — which by the year 1000 saw nearly the entire Greek corpus in medicine, mathematics, and natural philosophy translated into Arabic — provided the foundation for inquiry in the sciences. While most of the great thinkers in the Golden Age were not themselves in Baghdad, the Arabic world’s other cultural centers likely would not have thrived without Baghdad’s translation movement. For this reason, even if it is said that the Golden Age of Arabic science encompasses a large region, as a historical event it especially demands an explanation of the success of Abbasid Baghdad.

The rise to power of the Abbasid caliphate in the year 750 was, as Bernard Lewis put it in The Arabs in History (1950), “a revolution in the history of Islam, as important a turning point as the French and Russian revolutions in the history of the West.” Instead of tribe and ethnicity, the Abbasids made religion and language the defining characteristics of state identity. This allowed for a relatively cosmopolitan society in which all Muslims could participate in cultural and political life. Their empire lasted until 1258, when the Mongols sacked Baghdad and executed the last Abbasid caliph (along with a large part of the Abbasid population). During the years that the Abbasid empire thrived, it deeply influenced politics and society from Tunisia to India.

The Greek-Arabic translation movement in Abbasid Baghdad, like other scholarly efforts elsewhere in the Islamic world, was centered less in educational institutions than in the households of great patrons seeking social prestige. But Baghdad was distinctive: its philosophical and scientific activity enjoyed a high level of cultural support. As Gutas explains in Greek Thought, Arabic Culture (1998), the translation movement, which mostly flourished from the middle of the eighth century to the end of the tenth, was a self-perpetuating enterprise supported by “the entire elite of Abbasid society: caliphs and princes, civil servants and military leaders, merchants and bankers, and scholars and scientists; it was not the pet project of any particular group in the furtherance of their restricted agenda.” This was an anomaly in the Islamic world, where for the most part, as Ehsan Masood argues, science was “supported by individual patrons, and when these patrons changed their priorities, or when they died, any institutions that they might have built often died with them.”

There seem to have been three salient factors inspiring the translation movement. First, the Abbasids found scientific Greek texts immensely useful for a sort of technological progress — solving common problems to make daily life easier. The Abbasids did not bother translating works in subjects such as poetry, history, or drama, which they regarded as useless or inferior. Indeed, science under Islam, although in part an extension of Greek science, was much less theoretical than that of the ancients. Translated works in mathematics, for example, were eventually used for engineering and irrigation, as well as in calculation for intricate inheritance laws. And translating Greek works on medicine had obvious practical use.

Astrology was another Greek subject adapted for use in Baghdad: the Abbasids turned to it for proof that the caliphate was the divinely ordained successor to the ancient Mesopotamian empires — although such claims were sometimes eyed warily, because the idea that celestial information can predict the future clashed with Islamic teaching that only God has such knowledge.

There were also practical religious reasons to study Greek science. Mosque timekeepers found it useful to study astronomy and trigonometry to determine the direction to Mecca (qibla), the times for prayer, and the beginning of Ramadan. For example, the Arabic astronomer Ibn al-Shatir (died 1375) also served as a religious official, a timekeeper (muwaqqit), for the Great Mosque of Damascus. Another religious motivation for translating Greek works was their value for the purposes of rhetoric and what we would today call ideological warfare: Aristotle’s Topics, a treatise on logic, was used to aid in religious disputation with non-Muslims and in the conversion of nonbelievers to Islam (which was state policy under the Abbasids).

The second factor central to the rise of the translation movement was that Greek thought had already been diffused in the region, slowly and over a long period, before the Abbasids and indeed before the advent of Islam. Partly for this reason, the Abbasid Baghdad translation movement was not like the West’s subsequent rediscovery of ancient Athens, in that it was in some respects a continuation of Middle Eastern Hellenism. Greek thought spread as early as Alexander the Great’s conquests of Asia and North Africa in the 300s b.c., and Greek centers, such as in Alexandria and the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (238-140 b.c., in what is now Afghanistan), were productive centers of learning even amid Roman conquest. By the time of the Arab conquests, the Greek tongue was known throughout the vast region, and it was the administrative language of Syria and Egypt. After the arrival of Christianity, Greek thought was spread further by missionary activity, especially by Nestorian Christians. Centuries later, well into the rule of the Abbasids in Baghdad, many of these Nestorians — some of them Arabs and Arabized Persians who eventually converted to Islam — contributed technical skill for the Greek-Arabic translation movement, and even filled many translation-oriented administrative posts in the Abbasid government.

While practical utility and the influence of Hellenism help explain why science could develop, both were true of most of the Arabic world during the Golden Age and so cannot account for the Abbasid translation movement in particular. As Gutas argues, the distinguishing factor that led to that movement was the attempt by the Abbasid rulers to legitimize their rule by co-opting Persian culture, which at the time deeply revered Greek thought. The Baghdad region in which the Abbasids established themselves included a major Persian population, which played an instrumental role in the revolution that ended the previous dynasty; thus, the Abbasids made many symbolic and political gestures to ingratiate themselves with the Persians. In an effort to enfold this constituency into a reliable ruling base, the Abbasids incorporated Zoroastrianism and the imperial ideology of the defunct Persian Sasanian Empire, more than a century gone, into their political platform. The Abbasid rulers sought to establish the idea that they were the successors not to the defeated Arab Umayyads who had been overthrown in 650 but to the region’s previous imperial dynasty, the Sasanians.

This incorporation of Sasanian ideology led to the translation of Greek texts into Arabic because doing so was seen as recovering not just Greek, but Persian knowledge. The Persians believed that sacred ancient Zoroastrian texts were scattered by Alexander the Great’s destruction of Persepolis in 330 b.c., and were subsequently appropriated by the Greeks. By translating ancient Greek texts into Arabic, Persian wisdom could be recovered.

Initially, Arab Muslims themselves did not seem to care much about the translation movement and the study of science, feeling that they had “no ethnic or historical stake in it,” as Gutas explains. This began to change during the reign of al-Mamun (died 833), the seventh Abbasid caliph. For the purposes of opposing the Byzantine Empire, al-Mamun reoriented the translation movement as a means to recovering Greek, rather than Persian, learning. In the eyes of Abbasid Muslims of this era, the ancient Greeks did not have a pristine reputation — they were not Muslims, after all — but at least they were not tainted with Christianity. The fact that the hated Christian Byzantines did not embrace the ancient Greeks, though, led the Abbasids to warm to them. This philhellenism in the centuries after al-Mamun marked a prideful distinction between the Arabs — who considered themselves “champions of the truth,” as Gutas puts it — and their benighted Christian contemporaries. One Arab philosopher, al-Kindi (died 870), even devised a genealogy that presented Yunan, the ancestor of the ancient Greeks, as the brother of Qahtan, the ancestor of the Arabs.

Until its collapse in the Mongol invasion of 1258, the Abbasid caliphate was the greatest power in the Islamic world and oversaw the most intellectually productive movement in Arab history. The Abbasids read, commented on, translated, and preserved Greek and Persian works that may have been otherwise lost. By making Greek thought accessible, they also formed the foundation of the Arabic Golden Age. Major works of philosophy and science far from Baghdad — in Spain, Egypt, and Central Asia — were influenced by Greek-Arabic translations, both during and after the Abbasids. Indeed, even if it is a matter of conjecture to what extent the rise of science in the West depended on Arabic science, there is no question that the West benefited from both the preservation of Greek works and from original Arabic scholarship that commented on them.

Why the Golden Age Faded

As the Middle Ages progressed, Arabic civilization began to run out of steam. After the twelfth century, Europe had more significant scientific scholars than the Arabic world, as Harvard historian George Sarton noted in his Introduction to the History of Science (1927-48). After the fourteenth century, the Arab world saw very few innovations in fields that it had previously dominated, such as optics and medicine; henceforth, its innovations were for the most part not in the realm of metaphysics or science, but were more narrowly practical inventions like vaccines. “The Renaissance, the Reformation, even the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, passed unnoticed in the Muslim world,” Bernard Lewis remarks in Islam and the West (1993).

There was a modest rebirth of science in the Arabic world in the nineteenth century due largely to Napoleon’s 1798 expedition to Egypt, but it was soon followed by decline. Lewis notes in What Went Wrong? that “The relationship between Christendom and Islam in the sciences was now reversed. Those who had been disciples now became teachers; those who had been masters became pupils, often reluctant and resentful pupils.” The civilization that had produced cities, libraries, and observatories and opened itself to the world had now regressed and become closed, resentful, violent, and hostile to discourse and innovation.

What happened? To repeat an important point, scientific decline is hardly peculiar to Arabic-Islamic civilization. Such decline is the norm of history; only in the West did something very different happen. Still, it may be possible to discern some specific causes of decline — and attempting to do so can deepen our understanding of Arabic-Islamic civilization and its tensions with modernity. As Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, an influential figure in contemporary pan-Islamism, said in the late nineteenth century, “It is permissible … to ask oneself why Arab civilization, after having thrown such a live light on the world, suddenly became extinguished; why this torch has not been relit since; and why the Arab world still remains buried in profound darkness.”

Just as there is no simple explanation for the success of Arabic science, there is no simple explanation for its gradual — not sudden, as al-Afghani claims — demise. The most significant factor was physical and geopolitical. As early as the tenth or eleventh century, the Abbasid empire began to factionalize and fragment due to increased provincial autonomy and frequent uprisings. By 1258, the little that was left of the Abbasid state was swept away by the Mongol invasion. And in Spain, Christians reconquered Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248. But the Islamic turn away from scholarship actually preceded the civilization’s geopolitical decline — it can be traced back to the rise of the anti-philosophical Ash’arism school among Sunni Muslims, who comprise the vast majority of the Muslim world.

To understand this anti-rationalist movement, we once again turn our gaze back to the time of the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun. Al-Mamun picked up the pro-science torch lit by the second caliph, al-Mansur, and ran with it. He responded to a crisis of legitimacy by attempting to undermine traditionalist religious scholarswhile actively sponsoring a doctrine called Mu’tazilism that was deeply influenced by Greek rationalism, particularly Aristotelianism. To this end, he imposed an inquisition, under which those who refused to profess their allegiance to Mu’tazilism were punished by flogging, imprisonment, or beheading. But the caliphs who followed al-Mamun upheld the doctrine with less fervor, and within a few decades, adherence to it became a punishable offense. The backlash against Mu’tazilism was tremendously successful: by 885, a half century after al-Mamun’s death, it even became a crime to copy books of philosophy. The beginning of the de-Hellenization of Arabic high culture was underway. By the twelfth or thirteenth century, the influence of Mu’tazilism was nearly completely marginalized.

In its place arose the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school whose increasing dominance is linked to the decline of Arabic science. With the rise of the Ash’arites, the ethos in the Islamic world was increasingly opposed to original scholarship and any scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in religious regulation of private and public life. While the Mu’tazilites had contended that the Koran was created and so God’s purpose for man must be interpreted through reason, the Ash’arites believed the Koran to be coeval with God — and therefore unchallengeable. At the heart of Ash’ari metaphysics is the idea of occasionalism, a doctrine that denies natural causality. Put simply, it suggests natural necessity cannot exist because God’s will is completely free. Ash’arites believed that God is the only cause, so that the world is a series of discrete physical events each willed by God.

As Maimonides described it in The Guide for the Perplexed, this view sees natural things that appear to be permanent as merely following habit. Heat follows fire and hunger follows lack of food as a matter of habit, not necessity, “just as the king generally rides on horseback through the streets of the city, and is never found departing from this habit; but reason does not find it impossible that he should walk on foot through the place.” According to the occasionalist view, tomorrow coldness might follow fire, and satiety might follow lack of food. God wills every single atomic event and God’s will is not bound up with reason. This amounts to a denial of the coherence and comprehensibility of the natural world. In his controversial 2006 University of Regensburg address, Pope Benedict XVIdescribed this idea by quoting the philosopher Ibn Hazm (died 1064) as saying, “Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.” It is not difficult to see how this doctrine could lead to dogma and eventually to the end of free inquiry in science and philosophy.

The greatest and most influential voice of the Ash’arites was the medieval theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (also known as Algazel; died 1111). In his book The Incoherence of the Philosophers, al-Ghazali vigorously attacked philosophy and philosophers — both the Greek philosophers themselves and their followers in the Muslim world (such as al-Farabi and Avicenna). Al-Ghazali was worried that when people become favorably influenced by philosophical arguments, they will also come to trust the philosophers on matters of religion, thus making Muslims less pious. Reason, because it teaches us to discover, question, and innovate, was the enemy; al-Ghazali argued that in assuming necessity in nature, philosophy was incompatible with Islamic teaching, which recognizes that nature is entirely subject to God’s will: “Nothing in nature,” he wrote, “can act spontaneously and apart from God.” While al-Ghazali did defend logic, he did so only to the extent that it could be used to ask theological questions and wielded as a tool to undermine philosophy. Sunnis embraced al-Ghazali as the winner of the debate with the Hellenistic rationalists, and opposition to philosophy gradually ossified, even to the extent that independent inquiry became a tainted enterprise, sometimes to the point of criminality. It is an exaggeration to say, as Steven Weinberg claimed in the Times of London, that after al-Ghazali “there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries”; in some places, especially Central Asia, Arabic work in science continued for some time, and philosophy was still studied somewhat under Shi’ite rule. (In the Sunni world, philosophy turned into mysticism.) But the fact is, Arab contributions to science became increasingly sporadic as the anti-rationalism sank in.

The Ash’ari view has endured to this day. Its most extreme form can be seen in some sects of Islamists. For example, Mohammed Yusuf, the late leader of a group called the Nigerian Taliban, explained why “Western education is a sin” by explaining its view on rain: “We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.” The Ash’ari view is also evident when Islamic leaders attribute natural disasters to God’s vengeance, as they did when they said that the 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano was the result of God’s anger at immodestly dressed women in Europe. Such inferences sound crazy to Western ears, but given their frequency in the Muslim world, they must sound at least a little less crazy to Muslims. As Robert R. Reilly argues in The Closing of the Muslim Mind (2010), “the fatal disconnect between the creator and the mind of his creature is the source of Sunni Islam’s most profound woes.”

A similar ossification occurred in the realm of law. The first four centuries of Islam saw vigorous discussion and flexibility regarding legal issues; this was the tradition of ijtihad, or independent judgment and critical thinking. But by the end of the eleventh century, discordant ideas were increasingly seen as a problem, and autocratic rulers worried about dissent — so the “gates of ijtihad” were closed for Sunni Muslims: ijtihad was seen as no longer necessary, since all important legal questions were regarded as already answered. New readings of Islamic revelation became a crime. All that was left to do was to submit to the instructions of religious authorities; to understand morality, one needed only to read legal decrees. Thinkers who resisted the closing came to be seen as nefarious dissidents. (Averroës, for example, was banished for heresy and his books were burned.)

Why Inquiry Failed in the Islamic World

But is Ash’arism the deepest root of Arabic science’s demise? That the Ash’arites won and the Mu’tazilites lost suggests that for whatever reason, Muslims already found Ash’ari thought more convincing or more palatable; it suited prevailing sentiments and political ideas. Indeed, Muslim theologians appeared receptive to the occasionalist view as early as the ninth century, before the founder of Ash’arism was even born. Thus the Ash’ari victory raises thorny questions about the theological-political predispositions of Islam.

As a way of articulating questions that lie deeper than the Ash’arism-Mu’tazilism debate, it is helpful to briefly compare Islam with Christianity. Christianity acknowledges a private-public distinction and (theoretically, at least) allows adherents the liberty to decide much about their social and political lives. Islam, on the other hand, denies any private-public distinction and includes laws regulating the most minute details of private life. Put another way, Islam does not acknowledge any difference between religious and political ends: it is a religion that specifies political rules for the community.

Such differences between the two faiths can be traced to the differences between their prophets. While Christ was an outsider of the state who ruled no one, and while Christianity did not become a state religion until centuries after Christ’s birth, Mohammed was not only a prophet but also a chief magistrate, a political leader who conquered and governed a religious community he founded. Because Islam was born outside of the Roman Empire, it was never subordinate to politics. As Bernard Lewis puts it, Mohammed was his own Constantine. This means that, for Islam, religion and politics were interdependent from the beginning; Islam needs a state to enforce its laws, and the state needs a basis in Islam to be legitimate. To what extent, then, do Islam’s political proclivities make free inquiry — which is inherently subversive to established rules and customs — possible at a deep and enduring institutional level?

Some clues can be found by comparing institutions in the medieval period. Far from accepting anything close to the occasionalism and legal positivism of the Sunnis, European scholars argued explicitly that when the Bible contradicts the natural world, the holy book should not be taken literally. Influential philosophers like Augustine held that knowledge and reason precede Christianity; he approached the subject of scientific inquiry with cautious encouragement, exhorting Christians to use the classical sciences as a handmaiden of Christian thought. Galileo’s house arrest notwithstanding, his famous remark that “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes” underscores the durability of the scientific spirit among pious Western societies. Indeed, as David C. Lindberg argues in an essay collected in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009), “No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.” And, as Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark notes in his book For the Glory of God (2003), many of the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution were also Christian priests or ministers.

The Church’s acceptance and even encouragement of philosophy and science was evident from the High Middle Ages to modern times. As the late Ernest L. Fortin of Boston College noted in an essay collected in Classical Christianity and the Political Order (1996), unlike al-Farabi and his successors, “Aquinas was rarely forced to contend with an anti-philosophic bias on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. As a Christian, he could simply assume philosophy without becoming publicly involved in any argument for or against it.” And when someone like Galileo got in trouble, his work moved forward and his inquiry was carried on by others; in other words, institutional dedication to scientific inquiry was too entrenched in Europe for any authority to control. After about the middle of the thirteenth century in the Latin West, we know of no instance of persecution of anyone who advocated philosophy as an aid in interpreting revelation. In this period, “attacks on reason would have been regarded as bizarre and unacceptable,” explains historian Edward Grant in Science and Religion, 400 b.c. to a.d. 1550.

The success of the West is a topic that could fill — indeed, has filled — many large books. But some general comparisons are helpful in understanding why Islam was so institutionally different from the West. The most striking difference is articulated by Bassam Tibi in The Challenge of Fundamentalism(1998): “because rational disciplines had not been institutionalized in classical Islam, the adoption of the Greek legacy had no lasting effect on Islamic civilization.” In The Rise of Early Modern Science, Toby E. Huff makes a persuasive argument for why modern science emerged in the West and not in Islamic (or Chinese) civilization:

The rise of modern science is the result of the development of a civilizationally based culture that was uniquely humanistic in the sense that it tolerated, indeed, protected and promoted those heretical and innovative ideas that ran counter to accepted religious and theological teaching. Conversely, one might say that critical elements of the scientific worldview were surreptitiously encoded in the religious and legal presuppositions of the European West.

In other words, Islamic civilization did not have a culture hospitable to the advancement of science, while medieval Europe did.

The contrast is most obvious in the realm of formal education. As Huff argues, the lack of a scientific curriculum in medieval madrassas reflects a deeper absence of a capacity or willingness to build legally autonomous institutions. Madrassas were established under the law of waqf, or pious endowments, which meant they were legally obligated to follow the religious commitments of their founders. Islamic law did not recognize any corporate groups or entities, and so prevented any hope of recognizing institutions such as universities within which scholarly norms could develop. (Medieval China, too, had no independent institutions dedicated to learning; all were dependent on the official bureaucracy and the state.) Legally autonomous institutions were utterly absent in the Islamic world until the late nineteenth century. And madrassas nearly always excluded study of anything besides the subjects that aid in understanding Islam: Arabic grammar, the Koran, the hadith, and the principles of sharia. These were often referred to as the “Islamic sciences,” in contrast to Greek sciences, which were widely referred to as the “foreign” or “alien” sciences (indeed, the term “philosopher” in Arabic — faylasuf — was often used pejoratively). Furthermore, the rigidity of the religious curriculum in madrassas contributed to the educational method of learning by rote; even today, repetition, drill, and imitation — with chastisement for questioning or innovating — are habituated at an early age in many parts of the Arab world.

The exclusion of science and mathematics from the madrassas suggests that these subjects “were institutionally marginal in medieval Islamic life,” writes Huff. Such inquiry was tolerated, and sometimes promoted by individuals, but it was never “officially institutionalized and sanctioned by the intellectual elite of Islam.” This meant that when intellectual discoveries were made, they were not picked up and carried by students, and did not influence later thinkers in Muslim communities. No one paid much attention to the work of Averroës after he was driven out of Spain to Morocco, for instance — that is, until Europeans rediscovered his work. Perhaps the lack of institutional support for science allowed Arabic thinkers (such as al-Farabi) to be bolder than their European counterparts. But it also meant that many Arabic thinkers relied on the patronage of friendly rulers and ephemeral conditions.

By way of contrast, the legal system that developed in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe — which saw the absorption of Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian theology — was instrumental in forming a philosophically and theologically open culture that respected scientific development. As Huff argues, because European universities were legally autonomous, they could develop their own rules, scholarly norms, and curricula. The norms they incorporated were those of curiosity and skepticism, and the curricula they chose were steeped in ancient Greek philosophy. In the medieval Western world, a spirit of skepticism and inquisitiveness moved theologians and philosophers. It was a spirit of “probing and poking around,” as Edward Grant writes in God and Reason in the Middle Ages (2001).

It was this attitude of inquiry that helped lay the foundation for modern science. Beginning in the early Middle Ages, this attitude was evident in technological innovations among even unlearned artisans and merchants. These obscure people contributed to the development of practical technologies, such as the mechanical clock (circa 1272) and spectacles (circa 1284). Even as early as the sixth century, Europeans strove to invent labor-saving technology, such as the heavy-wheeled plow and, later, the padded horse collar. According to research by the late Charles Issawi of Princeton University, eleventh-century England had more mills per capita than even the Ottoman lands at the height of the empire’s power. And although it was in use since 1460 in the West, the printing press was not introduced in the Islamic world until 1727. The Arabic world appears to have been even slower in finding uses for academic technological devices. For instance, the telescope appeared in the Middle East soon after its invention in 1608, but it failed to attract excitement or interest until centuries later.

As science in the Arabic world declined and retrogressed, Europe hungrily absorbed and translated classical and scientific works, mainly through cultural centers in Spain. By 1200, Oxford and Paris had curricula that included works of Arabic science. Works by Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, and Galen, along with commentaries by Avicenna and Averroës, were all translated into Latin. Not only were these works taught openly, but they were formally incorporated into the program of study of universities. Meanwhile, in the Islamic world, the dissolution of the Golden Age was well underway.

A Gold Standard?

In trying to explain the Islamic world’s intellectual laggardness, it is tempting to point to the obvious factors: authoritarianism, bad education, and underfunding (Muslim states spend significantly less than developed states on research and development as a percentage of GDP). But these reasons are all broad and somewhat crude, and raise more questions than answers. At a deeper level, Islam lags because it failed to offer a way to institutionalize free inquiry. That, in turn, is attributable to its failure to reconcile faith and reason. In this respect, Islamic societies have fared worse not just than the West but also than many societies of Asia. With a couple of exceptions, every country in the Middle Eastern parts of the Muslim world has been ruled by an autocrat, a radical Islamic sect, or a tribal chieftain. Islam has no tradition of separating politics and religion.

The decline of Islam and the rise of Christianity was a development that was and remains deeply humiliating for Muslims. Since Islam tended to ascribe its political power to its theological superiority over other faiths, its fading as a worldly power raised profound questions about where a wrong turn was made. Over at least the past century, Muslim reformers have been debating how best to reacquire the lost honor. In the same period, the Muslim world tried, and failed, to reverse its decline by borrowing Western technology and sociopolitical ideas, including secularization and nationalism. But these tastes of “modernization” turned many Muslims away from modernity. This raises a question: Can and should Islam’s past achievements serve as a standard for Islam’s future? After all, it is quite common to imply, as President Obama did, that knowledge of the Golden Age of Arabic science will somehow exhort the Islamic world to improve itself and to hate the West less.

The story of Arabic science offers a window into the relationship between Islam and modernity; perhaps, too, it holds out the prospect of Islam coming to benefit from principles it badly needs in order to prosper, such as sexual equality, the rule of law, and free civil life. But the predominant posture among many Muslims today is that the good life is best approximated by returning to a pristine and pious past — and this posture has proven poisonous to coping with modernity. Islamism, the cause of violence that the world is now agonizingly familiar with, arises from doctrines characterized by a deep nostalgia for the Islamic classical period. Even today, suggesting that the Koran isn’t coeternal with God can make one an infidel.

And yet intellectual progress and cultural openness were once encouraged among many Arabic societies. So to the extent that appeals to the salutary classical attitude can be found in the Islamic tradition, the fanatical false nostalgia might be tamed. Some reformers already point out that many medieval Muslims embraced reason and other ideas that presaged modernity, and that doing so is not impious and does not mean simply giving up eternal rewards for materialistic ones. On an intellectual level, this effort could be deepened by challenging the Ash’ari orthodoxy that has dominated Sunni Islam for a thousand years — that is, by asking whether al-Ghazali and his Ash’arite followers really understood nature, theology, and philosophy better than the Mu’tazilites.

But there are reasons why exhortation to emulate Muslim ancestors may also be misguided. One is that medieval Islam does not offer a decent political standard. When compared to modern Western standards, the Golden Age of Arabic science was decidedly not a Golden Age of equality. While Islam was comparatively tolerant at the time of members of other religions, the kind of tolerance we think of today was never a virtue for early Muslims (or early Christians, for that matter). As Bernard Lewis puts it in The Jews of Islam (1984), giving equal treatment to followers and rejecters of the true faith would have been seen not only as an absurdity but also an outright “dereliction of duty.” Jews and Christians were subjected to official second-class sociopolitical status beginning in Mohammed’s time, and Abbasid-era oppressions also included religious persecution and the eradication of churches and synagogues. The Golden Age was also an era of widespread slavery of persons deemed to be of even lower class. For all the estimable achievements of the medieval Arabic world, it is quite clear that its political and social history should not be made into a celebrated standard.

There is a more fundamental reason, however, why it may not make much sense to urge the Muslim world to restore those parts of its past that valued rational and open inquiry: namely, a return to the Mu’tazilites may not be enough. Even the most rationalist schools in Islam did not categorically argue for the primacy of reason. As Ali A. Allawi argues in The Crisis of Islamic Civilization (2009), “None of the free-thinking schools in classical Islam — such as the Mu’tazila — could ever entertain the idea of breaking the God-Man relationship and the validity of revelation, in spite of their espousal of a rationalist philosophy.” Indeed, in 1889 the Hungarian scholar Ignaz Goldziher noted in his essay “The Attitude of Orthodox Islam Toward the ‘Ancient Sciences’” that it was not only Ash’arite but Mu’tazilite circles that “produced numerous polemical treatises against Aristotelian philosophy in general and against logic in particular.” Even before al-Ghazali’s attack on the Mu’tazilites, engaging in Greek philosophy was not exactly a safe task outside of auspicious but rather ephemeral conditions.

But more importantly, merely popularizing previous rationalist schools would not go very far in persuading Muslims to reflect on the theological-political problem of Islam. For all the great help that the rediscovery of the influential Arabic philosophers (especially al-Farabi, Averroës, and Maimonides) would provide, no science-friendly Islamic tradition goes nearly far enough, to the point that it offers a theological renovation in the vein of Luther and Calvin — a reinterpretation of Islam that challenges the faith’s comprehensive ruling principles in a way that simultaneously convinces Muslims that they are in fact returning to the fundamentals of their faith.

There is a final reason why it makes little sense to exhort Muslims to their own past: while there are many things that the Islamic world lacks, pride in heritage is not one of them. What is needed in Islam is less self-pride and more self-criticism. Today, self-criticism in Islam is valued only insofar as it is made as an appeal to be more pious and less spiritually corrupt. And yet most criticism in the Muslim world is directed outward, at the West. This prejudice — what Fouad Ajami has called (referring to the Arab world) “a political tradition of belligerent self-pity” — is undoubtedly one of Islam’s biggest obstacles. It makes information that contradicts orthodox belief irrelevant, and it closes off debate about the nature and history of Islam.

In this respect, inquiry into the history of Arabic science, and the recovery and research of manuscripts of the era, may have a beneficial effect — so long as it is pursued in an analytical spirit. That would mean that Muslims would use it as a resource within their own tradition to critically engage with their philosophical, political, and founding flaws. If that occurs, it will not arise from any Western outreach efforts, but will be a consequence of Muslims’ own determination, creativity, and wisdom — in short, those very traits that Westerners rightly ascribe to the Muslims of the Golden Age.

EU Prepares New Centralized Internet

The European Union is drafting a new law that would further regulate Internet content, reported German-language digital culture news website  Netzpolitik on July 16. Called the Digital Services Act, it aims to replace the outdated commerce directive of 20 years ago with an updated and legally binding version. Financial Times said it would be the “first of its kind globally” to cover such a broad range of digital platforms, and it would “target all parts of the tech sector.”

The new rules would allow unelected EU officials to censor illegal content on platforms like Google and Facebook, as well as cloud competing services, data storage services and Internet service providers.

Most striking is the way the Digital Services Act is organized. EU nations would lose control of the Internet laws their own governments have created, becoming subservient instead to a centralized EU committee.

Large social media sites would be subjected to the EU’s mandatory “notice and take down” rules, forcing them to remove within an hour anything the EU dislikes. “Hate speech,” notorious for its broad definition, would be outlawed and punishable at a whim. Any advertising deemed to be “political” in nature would also be subject to EU rules.

This law is being designed to reclaim the powers of enforcement that the General Data Protection Regulation granted to national governments and puts them solely in the hands of EU-level lawmakers.

Soon, overarching EU-wide laws will force every member nation to adhere to the same rules. It started at the national level, with “big member states, such as Germany, France and the UK, [forging] ahead with national legislation to target hate speech and illegal content,” wrote the Financial Times.

The Digital Services Act “suggests a centralized EU tech regulator with the power to enforce rules,” continued the Financial Times. This will give advantages to European companies at the expense of international ones, especially American giants like Google and Facebook. It will streamline matters for businesses, making it easier for them to operate across multiple EU nations. But once again, this benefit comes at the cost of national sovereignty.

Europe’s digital enforcers are having greater success than ever in forcing their rules on Big Tech companies, according to a study by the European Commission. In December 2016, Facebook removed 28 percent of content deemed illegal under EU law within the requisite 24-hour period. By December 2018, Facebook removed 82 percent of EU-flagged content within 24 hours. Likewise, Twitter removed 19 percent in December 2016 and 44.5 percent in December 2018.

According to the Financial Times, these laws are “a new rule book designed to overhaul how the EU treats tech companies and equip [unelected officials in] Brussels with sweeping legal powers to regulate hate speech, other illegal content and political advertising for the first time, according to officials.”

Removing illegal content, hate speech and extremism sounds good. In reality, these are broad categories that the EU can use to subjectively enforce political agendas. During EU elections, officials scoured social media for election meddling. This could also be used as a tool for mainstream political parties to blame other factors for their declining popularity, while at the same time seeking greater influence over the public.

Hate speech on social media is a genuine problem. But there is a darker and little-noticed side to Europe forcing its own rules on the World Wide Web. “The reality is that it isn’t tech companies, broadly, that the government is concerned about—it’s a very small number of specific big platforms,” a legal officer belonging to Global Partners Digital told IT Pro.

It is no coincidence that these specific platforms are not European. Through various pieces of legislation, the EU now has extraordinary influence in the homes of Internet users and within every corporation and government on Earth. The EU is waging a campaign of technological imperialism, and most people don’t even know it!

Even if you do not live in Europe and don’t expect to be affected, you need to understand where European regulation of the Internet is leading. Germany is leading Europe and will succeed in forcing its will on the Internet. But this is just a precursor to Germany forcing itself on the world in an even more direct way

It is not only trade that afflicts Indo-US relations

Last week, during the second annual summit of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) in Washington, top US officials made it clear they want results and they want them now. Elections are over, the new government is in place and it must focus on trade disputes.

From US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross to deputy trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish, to Dan Sullivan, a Republican senator, the need to move quickly and comprehensively on all trade issues came through loud and clear. Some chose their words gently, others did not. This, as the latest round of trade talks in Delhi ended without progress. All hope now rests on commerce minister Piyush Goyal’s visit to Washington next month.

The biggest problem is the time lost and the little time remaining before the whole thing becomes a runaway train. That won’t be good for either country. There’s no point debating who needs the other more, a particularly futile line of argument seen in both capitals in times of crisis.

What India needs is an advocate in Trump’s Cabinet. With the departure of defence secretary Jim Mattis, the India file has languished. Can Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner fill the vacuum? Kushner, the final speaker at the USISPF summit, was the sugar coating on the bitter pill of Ross and Gerrish. He talked of the potential of the relationship.

The fact that the movers and shakers at USISPF were able to get Kushner was a plus. Ivanka, Trump’s daughter, already has a ‘feel’ for India. She recently called India a ‘critical ally’, inviting the wrath of the Twitter world for ‘upgrading’ ties. But she was right — in spirit. Jared and Ivanka — ‘Javanka’ — could be the key to unlocking the trade knot if they so choose. Indian ambassador Harsh Shringla is pushing back against the US hardline.

He keeps reminding everyone of the big picture. He talked of the broader vision, the 50-year gaze instead of just five, and the many success stories —the big contract GE has bagged for engines — that get ignored in the verbal onslaught. Bilateral trade could touch $238 billion by 2025, up from the current $143 billion, USISPF has projected.

As the summit progressed came the news that the US Congress had effectively scuttled Indian efforts to be grouped among top US allies and partners for quicker clearances of defence purchases. The reason: India’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 Triumf air defence system.

It was bad news given the political effort and the lobbying by India’s friends on Capitol Hill. But the State Department was against granting India the higher status, pointing to the case of Turkey, a Nato ally facing potential sanctions. Be sure, the Pakistanis will keep badgering the point home from the sidelines.

In sum, early resolution of trade disputes would have eased the path for India on other issues. It was both a political and diplomatic oversight. Non-resolution of trade problems makes the S-400 waiver that much more difficult.

Whether the lost time can be made up would depend on New Delhi’s political will and Washington’s willingness to wait. From the public statements by Trump and his officials, it wouldn’t appear so. Ross said India needs to convince the outside world “by both words and deeds” about stability in policy, transparency and predictability in regulation. No wild changes, please.

Gerrish called it a ‘pivotal juncture’, adding that the time for ‘negotiations’ was over. He and his boss are now trying to assess if the new government has the “wherewithal and willingness to resolve” the issues. Trump’s trade brigade is aiming big, well beyond the market access issues cited in the industry demands to withdraw benefits to India under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). They are casting a wide net now.

Old complaints, legacy issues, new problems — Trump’s aggressive team wants a comprehensive response from India. Intellectual property (IP) protection, amendments to the IP law, market access not just for dairy but a host of products, e-commerce, data localisation and everything else US companies have chalked up over the years. It will be a political, intellectual, legal and bureaucratic challenge rolled into one. Americans can drown you in paperwork and rhetoric, which can soar high but also sink low. Remember when US secretary of State Madeleine Albright said India had “dug itself into a hole” with the 1998 nuclear tests. Those words still rankle the Indian establishment.

A comprehensive deal covering issues besides trade may be worth exploring. Trump is maverick enough to explore the unconventional and can be easy to please.

Weekend Special: The Vanishing Urdu Sounds from Bollywood Lyrics

I and my wife watch great and serious discussions regarding issues that stimulate intellect or listen to poetry every evening. Last evening, post-dinner we were watching an episode of Jashn-e-Rekta about the use of Urdu in Hindi films. Javaid Akhtar, Javad Siddiqui, Imtiaz Ali and Tigmanshu Dhulia were discussing this issue. And then I once again realized that the songs of Majrooh, Sahir, Gulzar and others of the same ilk had a beauty that is rare these days. It was a shock to learn that the use of Urdu is slowing falling in disuse, and that reflects badly both on the filmmakers and the audience. In Karan Johar’s 2010 Bollywood film My name is Khan, the main protagonist Rizwan Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan) a young man suffering from Asperger syndrome, insists that the correct pronunciation of his last name is ‘Khan’, produced from the epiglottis.

The Urdu sound in kh̲an is the same as the one in kh̲vab, ‘dream’, produced in the throat, which is different from the sound [kh], for example in khel (sports).

Gulzar, the acclaimed poet, made a comment in The Frontline about the decline of Urdu sounds. He mentioned how the Urdu sound /kh̲/ when mispronounced in the word dawa kh̲ana(pharmacy) as dawa khana, means something different, ‘to take medicine’.

The sound /kh̲/ in the name ‘Khan’ is one of the five sounds, namely /f/, /z/, /kh̲/, /gh̲/, and /q/ that distinguish Urdu from Hindi at the spoken level.

They occur in Urdu words such as fareb (deceit), zulm, (oppression), kh̲andan (family), gh̲alat (wrong), and qismat(destiny).

You can hear the sound [kh̲] enunciated as per Urdu phonetic norms by Lata Mangeshkar, whose mother tongue is Marathi, in her song ‘Kh̲uda nigahban ho tumhara’ from the film Mughal-e-Azam.

Power of pronunciation

We can understand the significance of the Urdu pronunciation from the story Nasreen Munni Kabir narrates in her book on Lata Mangeshkar. Lata, being a Marathi speaker, was initially unable to pronounce these sounds correctly. However, she realised how critical they were and became determined to learn Urdu.

She reminisces that after finishing recording for the 1949 film Mahal, Jaddanbai, Nargis’ mother, herself a celebrated singer, complimented Lata and said that she pronounced the Urdu word baghair (without) correctly in the song ‘Aayega aane waala’.

Asha Bhonsle, another great singer who charmed many generations with her captivating voice, too laments the decline of Urdu sounds in Hindi songs and notes, “Today’s singers don’t know Hindi. As far as their knowledge of Urdu is concerned, let’s not talk about it at all”. It was not the singers alone who took the Urdu diction seriously. Music directors made sure that the songs they produced met the standards.

Naushad, the maestro, in a tribute to Lata on her 70th birthday mentioned: “In fact, Mehboobsaab would tell me that she is a Marathi girl, her pronunciations are not right, and I was making her sing a ghazal. I took the responsibility of making her perfect her pronunciation”.

Manna Dey, a native speaker of Bengali, in which these sounds do not exist, once noted that C. Ramchandra taught him how important pronunciation was and that he would not allow any word to be mispronounced.

Onset of erosion

I read a research paper “My name is Khan… from the epiglottis: Changing linguistic norms in Bollywood songs” published in the Journal of South Asian Popular Culture, where the author examines the erosion of the pronunciation of the Urdu sounds /kh̲/, /gh̲/, and /q/ across decades starting from the 1960s to the 2010s.

He did this by creating a corpus of songs that won the Filmfare awards. The corpus consisted of 226 songs from Yahudi (1958) to Talash (2014), which were sung by a total of 44 singers from different linguistic backgrounds.

He possibly studied the lyrics from the perspective of whether the sounds /kh̲/, /gh̲/, and /q/ were pronounced like Urdu, or were they merged with the sounds /kh/, /g/, and /k/.

The research shows that until the end of 1980s, they were performed by singers, regardless of their religious or linguistic backgrounds, according to the Urdu phonetic norms. The only exception was when the song was written in a dialect of Hindi for a folk character in which case they were pronounced according to Hindi norms.

An example of this is the song Nain lad jaihen to manwan man kasak hoibe kari from the 1961 film Ganga Jumna in which Mohammad Rafi sang for the rustic and uneducated character Ganga. In this song, the Urdu sounds /z/ and /gh̲/ in words rozgaar (job) and gh̲azal were pronounced as rojgaar and gajal.

With the advent of the 1990s, the linguistic norms that Bollywood cherished and enforced for decades began to transform. The songs produced from the 1990s do not show the same standards of pronunciation. Singers such as Shreya Ghoshal perform them according to Hindi norms. In the 2012 film Barfi, she pronounces the /kh̲/ in the Urdu words shaakh̲en (branches) and kh̲archaa (expense) as /kh/, as per Hindi phonetic norms.

Similarly, Ghoshal and Shankar Mahadevan perform the sound /kh̲/ in the refrain Noor-e kh̲uda and kh̲vabon (dreams) as per the Hindi phonetic norms in the film My Name is Khan. Other examples include Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik in the song Kisi se tum pyaar karo, in which they perform the Urdu sounds /q/ and /kh̲/ in words iqrar (confess), kh̲ushi(happiness) and ashiqon (lovers) as per Hindi norms. The words iqrarkh̲ushi, and ashiqon, sound as ikrarkhushi, and ashikon.

Although the paper does not delve into all the factors responsible for this linguistic erosion in Hindi songs, it does discuss some. First, the decline of Urdu sounds began in the 1990s, which marks the rise of the Hindutva politics and the beginning of the mushrooming of cable television networks. Urdu, which was still highly valued in the 1990s, became isolated from the mainstream.

Second, the erosion could also be reflective of the decline of the Urdu language in India in general.

A third possible factor is the gradual disappearance of the old generation of writers, lyricists, playwrights and music directors, regardless of their religious identities, who were educated in the Urdu language and culture and the appearance of a new generation educated in the Hindi and English linguistic traditions.

They do not have access to the linguistic resources of Urdu and therefore their language shows the norms associated with a mixed-language containing elements of Hindi and English to the exclusion of Urdu. The multiple factors responsible for the change may be debatable. However, what is not debatable is the fact that the shibboleth of the Bollywood diction, at whose core was Urdu, is slowly withering away.

Material Gains Have Resulted in Huge Loss for Humans

Rather suddenly, capitalism is visibly sick. The virus of socialism has reemerged and is infecting the young once more. Wiser heads, who respect capitalism’s past achievements, want to save it, and have been proposing diagnoses and remedies. But their proposals sometimes overlap with those who would tear the system down, making nonsense of traditional left-right distinctions.

Fortunately, Raghuram G. Rajan, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India who teaches at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, brings his unparalleled knowledge and experience to bear on the problem. In his new book,The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave Community Behind, he arguesthat the cancer afflicting contemporary capitalism is the failure neither of “Leviathan” (the state) nor of “Behemoth” (the market), but of community, which no longer serves as a check against either monster. Rajan thus prescribes an “inclusive localism” to rebuild communities that can furnish people with self-respect, status, and meaning.

Rajan’s book, like Oxford University economist Paul Collier’s The Future of Capitalism, is part of a rapidly growing genre of critiques by capitalism’s friends. Rajan is a proponent of capitalism who has accepted that it no longer works in the interest of the social good, and must be brought back under control.

The Third Pillar offers deep historical context to explain the current moment, but it is most successful when it retraces developments after World War II to explain why everything started unraveling around 1970. Until then, the world had been busy recovering and rebuilding, and economic growth had received an added boost from the adoption of frontier technologies through replacement investment.

But trend growth has decelerated since 1970, accounting for many of our current difficulties. Through it all, governments have had no idea how to address the slowdown, other than to promise a restoration of the lost postwar paradise. In most cases, that has meant additional borrowing. And in Europe, elites have pursued continental unification with the great aim of stopping recurrent episodes of carnage. Yet in their rush to secure the obvious benefits of integration, they forgot to bring their citizens along. They have since learned that after hubris comes nemesis.

The success of social democracy in the postwar era weakened the market’s power to act as a moderating influence on the state. According to Rajan, these weakened actors, in both Europe and America, were in no position to deal with the revolution in information and communication technology (ICT) that they were about to face, leaving ordinary people to face the threats on their own. Rather than helping their workers manage the disruption, corporations made it worse by using their employees’ vulnerability to enrich their shareholders and managers.

And how they enriched themselves! With median household incomes largely stagnant and a growing share of wealth accruing to the rich, capitalism became manifestly unfair, losing its popular support. To manage its opponents, Behemoth called on Leviathan for protection, not understanding that a right-wing populist Leviathan eats Behemoth in the end.

Two points of Rajan’s story need to be emphasized. First, declining growth is a key, albeit low-frequency, cause of today’s social and economic distress. Second, the unfortunate consequences of the ICT revolution are not inherent properties of technological change. Rather, as Rajan notes, they reflect a “failure of the state and markets to modulate markets.” Though Rajan does not emphasize it, this second point gives us cause for hope. It means that ICT need not doom us to a jobless future; enlightened policymaking still has a role to play.

Rajan’s account of corporate misbehavior is very well told, and it is all the more effective coming from a professor at a prominent business school. From the start, the near-absolutist doctrine of shareholder primacy has served to protect managers at the expense of employees, and its malign effects have been exacerbated by the practice of paying managers in stock.

In The Future of Capitalism, Collier gives a parallel account from Britain, telling the story of the most admired British company of his childhood, Imperial Chemical Industries. Growing up, we all hoped someday to work at ICI, whose mission was “to be the finest chemical company in the world.” But in the 1990s, ICI amended its primary objective by embracing shareholder value. And in Collier’s telling, that single change destroyed the company.

What of the community? The United States once led the world in public education, providing local schools where children of all talents and economic backgrounds learned together. And when elementary education became insufficient, communities started providing access to secondary school for all.

Today, however, when a college degree is a prerequisite for success, the more talented kids pursue theirs far outside of the community, ultimately self-segregating in fast-growing cities from which the less talented are excluded by the high cost of living. Ensconced in their glittering cloisters, those who succeed form a meritocracy in which their kids – and almost exclusively their kids – do well.

Collier tells the same story for Britain, where talent and the share of national income have become increasingly concentrated in London, leaving gutted and angry communities behind. Yet as Janan Ganesh of the Financial Times points out, these metropolitan elites now find themselves “shackled to a corpse.”

For his part, Rajan sees the meritocracy as a product of the ICT revolution. But I suspect it is older than that. After all, the British sociologist Michael Young published his prescient dystopia, The Rise of the Meritocracy,in 1958. Indeed I am among the first Indian meritocrats. And just as Young predicted, we broke the system for subsequent generations, while continuing to extol its virtues. In India, where I grew up, the local community talent, the intellectuals, writers, historians, and artists have all gone in search of wider pastures, or simply given up competing with mass-market superstars. We are the poorer for it.

I think that community is a casualty of an elite minority’s capture of both markets and the state. But unlike him, I am skeptical that stronger local communities or policy of localism (inclusive or not) can cure what ails us. The genie of meritocracy cannot be put back in the bottle.

Eclipse of Freedom in Hong Kong

“Hong Kong is not China.” This was the battle cry of many protesters in Hong Kong on Sunday as they entered into their seventh week of demonstrations. But the activists were met that night with a new level of violence that shows how intolerable such words are to Beijing, and that indicates how these protests might end.

To understand the deepening political crisis in Hong Kong today, we must consider the territory’s history. Before the year 1841, Hong Kong Island was a sparsely inhabited area of just a few small and scattered villages. In A Modern History of Hong Kong, Steve Tsang writes: “This beautiful subtropical island … was at that time home to fewer than 7,500 Chinese residents, mostly fishermen and farmers.”

But on Jan. 26, 1841, the British Empire raised its flag on Hong Kong and began investing vast resources into the territory’s development. Hong Kong immediately became an attractive destination for European and British entrepreneurs who aimed to promote their China trade under protection of the British flag. Chinese nationals also flocked there to take up jobs building a new town. By the early 1900s, the population had swelled to 300,000. The numbers grew still more dramatically after the 1911 overthrow of the Qing dynasty sent a deluge of Chinese refugees into the territory. After Shanghai fell to the Chinese Communist Party in 1950, yet another torrent of Chinese took refuge there. By 1956, the population of Hong Kong stood at 2.5 million.

And the territory was taking on an utterly unique identity. “British rule,” Tsang writes, “led to the rise of a people that remains quintessentially Chinese and yet share a way of life, core values and an outlook that resemble at least as much, if not more, that of the average New Yorker or Londoner, rather than that of their compatriots in China.”

The trade growth during this era was equally energized: In 1860, 2,889 ships pulled into Hong Kong’s excellent natural harbor; by the early 1960s, the number had increased by a factor of 10.

As the 20th century progressed, Hong Kong’s population continued to explode. It became the world’s third highest-ranking center of global finance and one of the most densely populated and wealthy places on Earth. Under the British, it was dramatically transformed into a beacon of prosperity and modernity.

But in the postwar era, the British Empire went into sharp decline. And in 1997, despite opposition from a strong majority of Hong Kong’s population that had by then reached 6.4 million, the British handed Hong Kong over to Chinese sovereignty.

At this time, the people of Hong Kong had been separated from China by 156 years of ideological and institutional differences. Most of the territory’s residents were profoundly uneasy about the transition. The sentiments that later gave rise to the modern battle cry, “Hong Kong is not China,” were already intense. And this was perfectly understandable. Hong Kong was wealthy and free, a paragon of economic advancement. China was impoverished and oppressed, a byword for the failures of communism. Hong Kongers feared they would be swallowed up by the authoritarian mainland.

But the British negotiated an agreement for the colony it was leaving behind. According to the terms, China vowed to let Hong Kong retain its distinct identity under a rubric called “one country, two systems.” This model meant that—for 50 years—China would allow Hong Kong to continue its economic policies, and Hong Kong could maintain what its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, called a “high degree of autonomy.” This included a right for Hong Kong to keep operating its own judicial system based on the rule of law.

Why would the nationalist leaders of China allow such a period? Why would they risk allowing a part of their country to have far broader freedoms than the mainland and to remain largely outside of Beijing’s domineering governance?

Because the success of the Hong Kong model was undeniable. In 1997, China’s total population was 1.2 billion. At 6.4 million, Hong Kong made up only half of 1 percent of the total. Yet Hong Kong’s economy was around 20 percent the size of that in mainland. Despite the Chinese leadership’s deep abhorrence of the West in general and Britain’s colonialism in particular, they could not deny that the system the British had established in Hong Kong was extraordinarily successful.

“The real measure of Hong Kong’s extraordinary achievement was confirmed,” Tsang notes, “as the Communist and highly nationalistic government of the People’s Republic of China committed itself to maintain the system and way of life in Hong Kong for 50 years.”

In the early years, the “two systems” model was carefully followed. Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army kept a low profile in Hong Kong. Law enforcement bodies from the mainland had no jurisdiction in the territory. And mainland officials refrained from disquieting Hong Kong’s public spaces with their breathless Communist lectures.

But in 2003, after some 500,000 Hong Kongers filled the streets to protest a national security law that the local government was pushing, Beijing took action. The Chinese government launched a campaign demanding patriotism among Hong Kongers and calling for the territory to be governed only by leaders who “love the country and the city.” Beijing asserted its right to interpret the Basic Law at will.

A decade later, in June 2014, the Chinese State Council dropped a bombshell. In a 15,500-word white paper clarifying “one country, two systems,” it said that the Chinese government in Beijing has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong. It said that rather than having autonomy, Hong Kong was given only whatever authority to run its affairs that were approved by Beijing.

So little by little, despite the promised 50 years of autonomy, China was tightening its grip on Hong Kong. And now, 22 years after the handover, China’s encroachment is palpable in most every aspect of life in Hong Kong. Everything is under China’s control, either directly or indirectly.”

That’s the situation in Hong Kong today. The current protests were sparked seven weeks ago by a proposed law that would allow China to easily transfer individuals—including foreigners—in Hong Kong to the mainland if they are suspected of breaking Chinese law.

The possibility of suffering such a fate is terrifying to Hong Kongers because, unlike Hong Kong’s rules-based judicial system, China’s court system is notoriously corrupt. There is no check-and-balance configuration among the organs of law enforcement—such as police, lawyers and judges—and Chinese Communist Party leaders are above the law. They weaponize the judicial system to punish their enemies and tighten their grip on power. Authorities routinely arrest individuals who are critical of the party, and they use torture to extract confessions. The conviction rate for Chinese courts is an astounding 99.9 percent, and those who are convicted are often executed just 72 hours after a verdict is rendered. China executes more prisoners than the rest of the world combined.

Fear of being subjected to this corrupt Chinese system is what has driven 2 million Hong Kongers—more than a quarter of the territory’s total population—into the streets in recent weeks. Protesters scored a victory on June 15 when Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, suspended the proposed extradition law. But a suspension is not a withdrawal. And protesters fear the move was designed to sap their movement’s momentum so the Communist Party can quietly push the law through later.

So they continued demonstrating and their aim was broadened to confront not just the proposed extradition bill but China’s general encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy. It is fear over China’s tightening grip that gave rise to the battle cry “Hong Kong is not China.” In a clear sign of their resolve to keep the territory’s colonial legacy alive, many of the protesters brandish the Union Jack and the colonial era Hong Kong flag. And on July 1, demonstrators stormed Hong Kong’s legislative building, removed the emblem of Chinese Hong Kong, and raised the colonial British flag.

On Sunday, July 21, Beijing showed that it would not allow this battle cry, nor the separatist thinking that gave rise to it, to continue indefinitely. During protests that night, demonstrators defaced Beijing’s Liaison Office in the territory and pelted the building with eggs. This marked the first time the protesters directed their ire at China itself in a direct way. A short time later, hundreds of pro-China “triad” gangsters stormed Hong Kong’s Yuen Long district. Just after Hong Kong police furtively left the area, the gangsters began beating the protesters.

The pro-Beijing gangsters injured 45 people to the point of hospitalization, including a pregnant woman and one man who remains in critical condition.

Further building the case of government complicity, police refused to take calls to the area during the mayhem and in its aftermath not a single triad gangster has been arrested. Hong Kong’s police commissioner has denied colluding with Beijing or its puppets in the Hong Kong government, but the denials ring hollow. All of this basically is suggesting either China-backed this, or the Hong Kong government-backed this to please China.

The crackdown on protesters was localized and not on the same scale as China’s all-out slaughter of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square back in 1989. But it was still a joltingly violent crackdown. And it provides an indication of how China views these protests and how it will handle those who reject the idea that Hong Kong is part of China.

This shows that China will not let go of Hong Kong. And if China begins to see the protests as a movement that could spread into the mainland or otherwise threaten its authority, it will use any force necessary to quash the dissent.

It is possible that the protests will prompt China to slightly loosen its grip on Hong Kong in the near term. But in the long term, Beijing’s encroachment on the territory will only grow more heavy-handed. Despite the battle cry, Beijing will ensure that Hong Kong is and remains part of China. This is largely because Hong Kong serves as a “gate” to the South China Sea. Around 30 percent of the world’s maritime commerce sails through this sea, and China’s economy depends heavily on it both for imports of energy and for exports of Chinese goods.

Britain actually gave the South China Sea prize of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. Now that U.S. military presence in the area has been drastically reduced, China is claiming the entire South China Sea as its own! … Whoever controls these vital sea gates controls one-third of the world’s maritime commerce. … Everything is headed in the direction of war.

Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China—along with Britain’s and America’s loss of numerous other invaluable gates was tragic not just for the British but also for the Hong Kongers. The tragedy is becoming more evident as China removes Hong Kong’s freedoms and increasingly asserts its oppressive rule over the territory, well ahead of schedule.

China’s increasing aggression in Hong Kong and beyond should concern anyone in any country. It is true that these events and trends should concern each one of us. 

A turbulent rising China!

I have witnessed with dismay China’s aggressive and strategic investment in intellectuals and opinion makers around the world to doctor its global image. The wooing process starts with lavish receptions and orchestrated visits to regions under Chinese control, including Tibet; from then on the patronage continues. The dividends are obvious from the rising number of pro-China intellectuals and the biased Chinese propaganda being churned out on a regular basis in both the Indian and Western press.

China’s desire for global dominance is most visible in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative – a global China-centric development strategy proposed in 2013 and targeted for completion in 2049, touching 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Africa, Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

This image of China as a global power needs to be juxtaposed with the growing dissent within. China’s enforcement of its doctrines with absolute disrespect for ethnic identity and human rights is responsible for the increasing tension and defiance in Xinjiang and Tibet.  In the case of Hong Kong, it is particularly due to the gradual erosion of China’s ‘One country, two systems’ commitment.

The recent wave of protests in Hong Kong, in which over 2 million people participated, was against a new Extradition bill that was being proposed by the Hong Kong government. Protestors feared that the legislation was politically motivated to send Hong Kongers and residents in Hong Kong for trial in mainland China. Hong Kong protests successfully froze the proposed extradition bill but Hong Kongers are still rightfully concerned that the bill has not been withdrawn and could surface anytime.

The PRC is known for not keeping its commitments, even when the agreement was imposed and enforced by China. A good case in point is the Seventeen Point Agreement signed under duress in 1951, which affirmed its sovereignty over Tibet. The agreement clearly states that “the Central Authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet nor alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama”. The other important commitment was that “there will be no compulsion on the part of the Central Authorities and that the Local Government of Tibet should carry out reforms of its own accord”. 

Nor can it be said that China is governed by rule of law. The Chinese Constitution and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy law passed in 1984 guarantee numerous rights to minorities, including self-government within designated autonomous areas, proportional representation in the government and freedom to develop their own language, religion and culture. The ground reality is not only otherwise; China has been working strategically to encourage Han Chinese migration to these ‘minority areas’ to change the demographic balance of the regions. 

Not only is China stifling the freedoms of the people within its territory: as it positions itself as a global power, it is throwing its weight around like a bully. Reprimanding Norway by breaking diplomatic ties until 2016 after Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 is a case in point. The way China is going about changing the human rights narrative at the UN and international fora is another troubling example. The recent warning to India about the impact on bilateral ties if it interferes in the succession of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a fresh example. 

There will be a backlash to China’s aggression both within and outside. Many signatories of Belt and Road Initiatives are in it for the sake of improving economic conditions in their countries – but they are not fools and cannot be pushed around for too long. This coupled with ultra-nationalistic arrogance will not serve its global interests.

No human being can tolerate the suppression of his/her identity and culture and this is the reason for the resentment and dissent in Tibet and Xinjiang. China cannot clamp down on people’s aspiration for freedom of expression in the form of religion, free speech and all other forms of expression. The Chinese understanding that economic freedom and development alone are enough for peaceful coexistence is wrong. Unless China peacefully resolves its internal conflicts through dialogue and with respect for rule of law, human rights and dignity, it will never become a global power in the true sense.

Pessimism need not be under-rated

‘We must recognize that our economic development has come at a significant price.’  The idea that the world is better off than ever is featuring on our bookshelves again. From Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now to Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, public intellectuals are arguing that, despite our current fears about conflict, economic decline and environmental damage, human society is better than it has ever been. Technologists in Silicon Valley have their own version of this argument in “the singularity”: the idea that all the world’s problems will eventually be solved by the rapid advancement of technology.

While a cursory look at the data may suggest that real progress has been made in poverty alleviation, public health and living standards, these authors do not account for the costs of these achievements. “Progress”, in their eyes, is divorced from its impact on the planet, which is rooted in the belief that human society is separate from the natural world. Our current model of human progress – driven by a “free-market” model of the economy that underprices resources and encourages overconsumption – has, despite its success in some areas, led to recognizably worse outcomes in others.

As much as we talk about pessimism in today’s headlines, on the whole most people around the world do not really think about the external costs of modern society and lifestyles. Our world seems to pride itself on ever-more flashy technological advancements (with increasingly little social value), extended lifespans and increasing incomes. Any attention paid to the costs of these is short-lived.

For example, 8 June was World Oceans Day. For a short window, we were reminded of the devastating impact of human progress on the largest and most critical of the planet’s ecosystems. From the plague of plastics to the acidification of the oceans, the destruction of reefs and our relentless appetite for seafood, the sea bears the brunt of the sacrifices made for human progress. But the world paid attention for only a few days, before moving on to something else.

World Refugee Day came two weeks later, on 20 June. Despite the (very real) reduction in conflict around the world, the number of refugees is perhaps the largest it has ever been. And last week, on 9 August, we marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. There were several stories celebrating indigenous cultures, and acknowledging what has been lost due to globalisation and Westernization. Once the day ends, however, both popular and media attention will move on.

But the costs of human progress are systemic and pervasive, and persist for longer than a single day. They are the result of how we both understand progress and how we try to achieve it. For example, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are built into our economic model, which thrives on cheap energy to enable over-consumption of under-priced resources.

This has serious environmental costs, which are already starting to be seen in the developing world. The Economist recently argued that, given the scale of fires, floods and heatwaves around the world, humanity is losing the battle against climate change.

Asia will be hit hard by the costs of human progress. The region’s biodiversity in both its forests and its oceans is a pale shadow of what it was just a half century ago. The expansion of industrial agriculture has eaten into its rainforests, which are some of the world’s oldest. The growth of Asia’s consumer class, still in its infancy, has polluted its waterways and the atmosphere, driven overfishing and led to collapsing fisheries. We have hardly made any headway in tackling the deforestation, loss of biodiversity, overfishing and pollution that are the causes of the mass extinction currently underway and described by scientists as “biological annihilation”.

And there will be blowback on human populations as well. Major Asian coastal cities, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Jakarta, Dhaka, are threatened by rising sea levels. Large swathes of the Indus Valley and the Indo-Gangetic Plain, where millions of Indians and Pakistanis live, have been predicted to become uninhabitable by 2100.

Yet India is also projected to become the world’s largest country by 2022, and many of its inhabitants are still energy-poor and do not have an adequate standard of living. They will demand better access to the basic needs of human life. How sustainable will our version of human progress be when Asia adds another estimated billion people to its population by 2050?

Less talked about than the environmental costs of economic development is the destruction of traditional cultures and values. Ancient knowledge and practices across the world are being lost and replaced with modern (and often Western-modelled) practices. When combined with growing income inequality, this sense of dislocation and loss of identity can lead to rising resentments and tensions. The NGO Minority Rights Group International considers minority and indigenous cultures to be “under serious threat”. Rising intolerance and xenophobia are other reactions to this homogenization, be it in the United States, the Netherlands or Myanmar.

The point is not to replace optimism with pessimism. It would be churlish to discount the huge strides made in raising living standards, reducing infant mortality rates and increasing lifespans across the world. But it is essential to recognize that our development has come with significant costs, which will not just slow down “progress”, but may even reverse it. The costs of progress are shared unequally, and mostly borne by non-Western countries. The challenges of the developing world will not be well-served by the selective use of data.

Rather than optimism under any circumstance, we instead need to be realistic about the situation we find ourselves in. We need a definition of “progress” that moves away from growth at all costs and the pursuit of development metrics without accounting for sustainability. Looking at positive data while ignoring the significant scientific evidence about humanity’s impact on the planet is not optimism, but dangerous misinterpretation. Denial cannot be the basis for optimism.

Need to understand younger people to effectively hire them

Global organizations today are faced with talent shortages, skills gaps and ageing workforces. To overcome these challenges, businesses need to look to younger generations – but what can companies do to attract and retain the best talent from among millennials and Generation Z?

Firstly, recruiters need to understand what makes these younger generations tick. Millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) don’t buy, they rent – and this ‘sharing economy’ allows them to enjoy everything from music, vintage furniture, cars, designer clothes and even pets without the hassles of ownership.

Employees who subscribe to Spotify rather than buy albums, for example, or who share items rather than own them outright, aren’t interested in jobs for life – they are after experiences. The ‘gig economy’ of freelance or contract work appeals to four out of five millennials and Gen Zs. The average length of time an employee currently stays in a job is between four and five years globally.

How it feels to be in the workplace today

Recent years have not necessarily been kind to employees entering the workforce. Following on from the baby boom years of economic expansion, lately we have seen growing economic inequality, while information technology that is supposed to bring us together is instead making us feel more isolated.

We have also seen a significant shift in trust, with a loss of faith not only in traditional authority figures and institutions but also more recently in peer-to-peer relationships. People have shifted their trust towards relationships in their control, particularly their employers. Employees who have trust in their employer will advocate for them, are more engaged, and remain far more loyal.

Understanding what millennials want from their employers

So how can employers attract younger generations into the workplace?

Firstly, by listening. Take a look at any survey of millennials, and what they want from their employers quickly becomes obvious. Topping the list for many is work-life balance. A recent study by YouGov found that millennials prioritise work-life balance over job security and pay when applying for work.

Travel and seeing the world were also at the top of the list (57%) of millennial and Gen Z aspirations, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Millennial Survey. They also were more attracted to making a positive impact in their communities or society at large (46%) than having children and starting families (39%).

However, while pay might not be top of their lists when applying for work, dissatisfaction with pay, along with a lack of both advancement and development opportunities are the top reasons why millennials and Gen Z change jobs.

Future proofing our organizations

Flexible and agile working and job-sharing opportunities are all ways of helping employees – not just millennials – maintain a healthy work-life balance. Many global organizations also support international assignments and job swaps as ways to ensure skills and business knowledge are available and shared where required, as well as being important tools to generate developmental opportunities.

Millennials and Gen Zs often start and stop relationships with companies because of the latters’ positive or negative impact on society. Organizations can make meaningful contributions through their technology, reach and people, whether that’s around climate change, environmental challenges or building better digital lives, for example. Businesses should build on that appetite to make a positive impact on their communities with local volunteering opportunities, wherever they are in the world.

And finally, savvy employers understand the importance of developing their staff for the future. Deloitte found that only about one in five respondents believed they have the skills and knowledge they’ll need for a world being shaped by Industry 4.0. It therefore falls to employers to help employees prepare for the future through skills development and training. As jobs become more fluid in the future, continuous retraining and upskilling can provide future-proofed skills to help staff change roles and take advantage of new opportunities.

The other end of the generational spectrum

Millennials and Gen Zs make up more than half the world’s population and most of the global workforce, but companies need to nurture the top talent among older generations, too. They are often highly experienced members of the team who can help train younger workers.

From two-way mentoring programmes to hiring retired workers for short-term projects and testing ergonomic tools to reduce physical strain, there are plenty of ways companies can retain older talent.

Today is a great opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of younger generations. Businesses that invest in young talent now will be repaid through engagement, advocacy and loyalty – all of which are key ingredients in a future-proofed organisation. 

Would Great Wall of China always change the course of history

If we study the history of human civilization from the books, it is mostly narrated as a story of European (white) civilization in the centre interacting with side actors like India or Islamic nations of central Asia, but it contains a gaping hole that is rarely noticed, i.e. China.

The possible truth is, the entire history of human civilisation has only two major forces in action, and that is the Chinese civilisation and the also-ran. China is not an invisible enigma that churns behind its Great Wall as it is often treated by historians but is the force majeure shaping the human history that the world, and more so India who has always made a mistake of ignoring it.

The Great Wall of China is actually a metaphor that has a message for us to learn from (and now) or parish. As I have read historians write about the Great Wall as if it has nothing to do with world, I would like to point out that it is this physical wall that may have changed the fate of our civilisation (more than that even of China), and if we can’t sense the connection today, the metaphoric wall of modern China will repeat the history soon.

To understand this more, we need to study the history of the Great Wall as it is hard not to notice the connection once we look closely at the dates.

Though the twenty-one thousand kilometre long Great Wall is constructed over two thousand years and is substantially fragmented (and hence not always effective in deterring central Asian nomads from attacking, as they often simply rode around it), nearly nine thousand kilometres of wall that is more fortified and has worked as a defence system tough to breach is built by the Ming dynasty.

If you grasp that the wall was aimed at keeping the central Asian nomadic hordes at bay who were also tormenting India, the dates of Ming dynasty start looking really interesting. The period of Ming dynasty rule is from 1368 to 1644 AD. It is hard not to notice that the wall building activity of Chinese is almost perfectly conceding with the waves of attacks from the central Asian nomadic clans on India.

As the major aim of central Asian invaders was to plunder, ransack and loot, sitting in the centre of the ancient world, they always had the option of looking in every direction and identify easy pickings, be it Europe, China or India. While Europe was an option where there was added advantage of making the war holy, it was the ancient and hence rich civilisations of China and India that must have looked more lucrative to the tribal warlords of Central Asia.

So, when China built its amazing Great Wall and made it a hard cherry to pick, it is most likely that India started getting more than its fair share of invasions from Central Asian clans.

If we look at the most successful invasion that changed the very face of Hindustan, it was from Babur (who had the legacy of Timur from paternal side and Genghis Khan from maternal side) in 1526 when Ming dynasty must have had the Great Wall up and running. If we look at the Great Wall, it stands for everything Chinese that we see even today.

It is an infrastructure project at a scale that is unimaginable for any civilisation of that era and yet Chinese had the vision to take it up and built it too. What China has done in recent times in terms of infrastructure building is just a continuation of the same legacy.

While the wall building is impressive, more striking is what it communicates about the Chinese approach to dealing with the outside world. What the wall also stands for is China’s mind-set of becoming a secure island and focus on internal development and strengthening of self by becoming manufacturing hub that uses trade as the only medium of interacting with the world.

It is not just the silk route from which China exported its products with the world, ancient China has also used the sea route for trade but in a way completely unlike the Europe. China has never attempted physical colonisation and have always focused on trade knowing too well that physical occupation means wars while trade can allow you to exploit other nations with no real cost.

As China has not ruled the world, we have failed to see the role it has always played in the story of human civilisation, but if we take a long shot of history, it is clear that it has been always on the top of the world by its trident of isolation, manufacturing technology development and trade. If we continue remaining short-sighted about China and fail in realising that opium wars or Japanese occupation of this mighty nation were nothing but the momentary downs that it is raising from, we in India could be making a huge mistake.

As Chinese wall is now up and China back on its upward swing, India could be finding itself on a receiving end of next wave of invaders, now in from of forces of commerce. The fact that India could be occupied in the past was not only because it was fragmented, but it was also because it could not see the bigger picture.

Today it is possible for us to become a better judge of the geopolitical landscape around us and prepare better to tackle the collateral fallout of the rise of the Great Wall of China, and if we don’t, we would be doomed, again.

Hazards of Identity in India Today

Modern societies are rejecting globalism for exclusionary categories. The 21st century has hardly begun and the great promise of globalisation and “liberal inclusion” of the last century is fading. The world’s powerful states, heretofore wedded to internationalism, are turning inward and seeking their primeval identities. Nations are seeking identities away from multiculturalism and wish to protect themselves by banning immigration. Borders are being closed, and those who had crossed them decades earlier as welcome guests are being treated with intolerance.
Anthropologist Akbar Ahmed has found the rise of identity politics in Europe interesting enough for him to undertake a journey to Europe to experimentally see if his earlier theses on the subject jibe with what is happening now. His Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity is a kind of culmination to his three earlier examinations of “tribal” identity. As Ahmed surveys the identity-seeking Europe, he is reminded of the “inclusive” state of Abdur Rahman in al-Andalus (Iberia), in the 8th century AD. It was remembered for its “Convivencia”, or the idea of the living together of different identities, which Islam has forsaken today. Rahman was an Umayyad prince from a Berber mother in Syria. He was a descendant of the founder of the dynasty who had married a Christian woman — thus indicating the source of his “Convivencia” in al-Andalus between Muslims, Christians and Jews tolerant of multiple identities.
But, this Convivencia that one puts today in front of a Europe forsaking the Enlightenment and seeking “identity”, did not last: Ahmed compares it to what is happening today among nations. One is reminded of Jamaludin Afghani too, who opposed Syed Ahmad Khan — an ancestor of Akbar Ahmed — in India, but proposed acceptance of Islam in Europe. Afghani possessed a lot of traditional learning that eased his entry into the Muslim societies of Turkey, India, Iran and Egypt. But he got his comeuppance in France, where orientalist Ernest Renan told him, prophetically, that his claim — that Muslims would ultimately turn to reason and modernity — will never be proved right as the Muslims will defeat his thinking just as they had rejected Ibn Rushd (Averroes) in the 12th century for having learned too much of Aristotle.
Today’s European intolerance of the Muslim minorities reminds one of an early warning by a European genius in a different context. Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) in The Origins of Totalitarianism traced the modern state’s internal cleansing to its second project: Of conquering other territories and killing off the population there through genocide. It is the imperialism of the modern state which gets internalised when it purges its own population to eliminate those who are “different”.
Reading Akbar Ahmed one is reminded of the motto the founding fathers fashioned for Pakistan: Unity, Faith and Discipline — putting unity first to obfuscate the clashing identities of the various communities living in Pakistan. As the state moved away from Raj-enforced Enlightenment to an Islamist military dominance, the motto, at times, came to be rewritten as Faith, Unity, Discipline — putting faith first, and thus clearly embracing identity that divides in place of the intended “assimilation” of all identities in Pakistan. Similarly, the Urdu “grammatical rule” of writing “marhoom” (blessed) only after the name of the Muslim dead and disallowing it after the name of a non-Muslim Pakistani citizen, sought exclusion rather than inclusion. In India, a constitution put together by an untouchable leader, B R Ambedkar, charted the assimilation of all identities in secular integration. But today, the new consensus reflected in the electoral victory of the BJP seeks to follow the path traced by the state of Pakistan.
Outside Hindutva, all identities are “impure”, just as the non-Muslims of Pakistan have to live under laws that victimise them. Ahmed writes about “tribal” Europe: “Yet the aggressive promotion of German tribalism is far from finished. The emergence of Far Right political movements such as Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the attacks on foreigners and Muslims, refugee shelters, and mosques, and the disturbing re-emergence of anti-Semitism reflect a deep-seated hostility to all that is ‘impure’.”

The warming effects of CO2 are benign

It has been suggested that my support for GM technology will be compromised if I accept the “consensus” in the case of biotechnology but not in the case of climate science.

I was persuaded about the safety of GM crops by some simple facts. GM scientists need to be very meticulous since they and their children will eat these crops too. Billions of GM-based meals have been consumed over 23 years without anyone dying directly as a result. Finally, GM regulators are paid by sovereign countries that have no reason to collude.

The problem with climate “science”, however, is that the data – which are telling us to relax – fly in the face of the strong tendency of its advocates to bully us into a panic. We are asked to drop all common sense and to accept that CO2 – a monumentally insignificant fraction of the air – is the control knob of the climate.

I consider climate science’s recommendations to be less worthy of acceptance in comparison with those of biotechnology for five main reasons.

First, established physics theories are precise and have a single set of equations but we have over a hundred different climate models. One can understand different parametric estimates for sensitivity analysis but when hundreds of different sets of equations purport to forecast the future we know that the science is not settled.

Second, the average predictions of climate models have grossly exceeded observed temperatures. This has been found not only in James Hansen’s model but in charts in the IPCC’s own 2013 report. A paper by Fyfe, Gillett and Zwiers in Nature in 2013 showed how badly climate models have performed. John Christy’s subsequent comparison of model predictions with satellite temperature measurements has come to the same conclusion. The Economist magazine said it well in 2013 that “If climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, climate sensitivity would be on negative watch”.

In addition, Roy Spencer’s analysis of ocean warming, using data in IPCC’s own report shows much lower climate sensitivity than even in the moderate IPCC scenarios. Recently he mentioned a 2018 peer-reviewed paper that re-confirms this. And I don’t even want to start off on the tens of false alarms that have splattered newspapers over the past century.

Third, the suggested strong correlation between CO2 and temperature simply does not exist. I looked at IPCC’s first report and found no correlation at all: (a) there were extensive variations in the climate over the past few thousand years  despite CO2 remaining pretty much constant, and (b) when CO2 actually started increasing rapidly from 1950, the temperature plummeted for three decades. At that time, in the 1970s, climate scientists scared us about an impending Ice Age.

Many independent and bigger underlying natural causes than CO2 are at work including forces that pulled us out of the Little Ice Age (c.1400 to c.1800). One of these causes relates to the Atlantic multidecadal ocean oscillation that Judith Curry and other scientists have studied. Her study of the oscillation’s effect on Arctic ice is illuminating.

Such forces add sinusoidal and non-linear overlays to the trend of recovery of temperatures from the Little Ice Age and explain not only the significant warming of the first part of the 20th century (which took place without any CO2 emissions) but the subsequent cooling till the late 1980s and the small subsequent warming surge followed by a pause over the first twenty years of this century.

In fact, the increase in temperatures in the past thirty years is principally no different to the increase of the first half of the 20th century except that it comes on top of a higher base because of the longer-term trend since 1800. Yes, the climate is changing and yes, the greenhouse gas effect is rock-solid science but the observed sensitivity of the climate to increases in CO2 is very low.

Fourth, I want to briefly touch upon data quality since no science can succeed without high quality data. The reader will notice I have deliberately cited the first IPCC report’s charts, not its recent reports informed by a controversial (and arguably defective) study. Geologists who have studied this issue tell us that there definitely was medieval warming and a Little Ice Age – there is too much circumstantial evidence to “disappear” them.

It is concerning that IPCC has tried to erase both these well-established periods. More problematically, we see regular reports in newspapers that physically measured temperatures of the past are being changed to fit the “panic” claims.

I have come to the view that we can trust only four pieces of data: temperature measurements by satellites – particularly of the troposphere, sea level measurements (which are getting better due to satellites), ocean temperature measurements and counts of extreme events and their intensity over the past 100 years. All four of these measures provide strong assurance that the planet’s sensitivity to CO2 is extremely low.

Finally, I want to note something that I had alluded to in earlier articles and also above – that I consider IPCC’s motives to be highly suspect. Unlike competitive sovereign regulatory bodies, the IPCC is extremely vulnerable to group think. It is not the right kind of body to review science – there are too many cooks plus strong political involvement. One consequence of this has been that scientists who may not agree with the IPCC’s “consensus” are being hounded by universities across the world. (In comparison, no one punishes scientists who disagree with the GM consensus.) I want the IPCC dissolved and nations and scientists to operate independently once again.

Donald Trump walked out of the Paris Accord and is reportedly setting up a committee to review the current state of climate knowledge. He is on the right track. In addition, he should seek abolition of the IPCC or at least make it clear to these gravy-train bureaucrat-scientists that until the science agrees to a single model and makes a single medium-term prediction that actually comes true, they should stop drumming up bogus panic and scaring small children across the world.

India should take it easy and focus on more important and urgent environmental issues. The only clear effect of more CO2 has been a greening of the Earth and of India in particular. Of course, fertilizer, better varieties of seed, herbicides and insecticides have also contributed. GM technology can supplement this productivity boost in the face of a slightly warmer climate.

Top Emerging Technologies of 2019

Which of today’s technologies will shape tomorrow’s world? A new report compiled by the World Economic Forum reveals some of the breakthrough innovations that are expected to radically impact the global social and economic order.

“From income inequality to climate change, technology will play a critical role in finding solutions to all the challenges our world faces today,” says Jeremy Jurgens, Chief Technology Officer at the World Economic Forum. “This year’s emerging technologies demonstrate the rapid pace of human innovation and offer a glimpse into what a sustainable, inclusive future will look like.”

Making the list involves more than promising major benefits to the world. The emerging technologies must positively disrupt the existing order, be attractive to investors and researchers, and expect to achieve considerable scale within the coming 5 years.

These are the top 10 emerging technologies for 2019:

1. Bioplastics for a circular economy

Less than 15% of the world’s plastic is recycled, with the rest incinerated, abandoned or sent to landfill. Biodegradable plastic offers a solution, but lacks the strength of conventional materials. A breakthrough idea promotes the circular economy by using cellulose or lignin from plant waste, which increases material strength without using crops that could otherwise be used for food.

2. Social robots

Today’s robots can recognise voices, faces and emotions, interpret speech patterns and gestures, and even make eye contact. Droid friends and assistants are becoming part of everyday life, and are being used increasingly to care of the elderly, educate children and undertake all sorts of tasks in between.

3. Metalenses

Making the lenses used by mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices smaller has been beyond the capabilities of traditional glass cutting and glass curving techniques. But advances in physics have led to miniaturised, lighter alternatives to established lenses, called metalenses. These tiny, thin, flat lenses could replace existing bulky glass lenses and allow further miniaturization in sensors and medical imaging devices.

4. Disordered proteins as drug targets

“Intrinsically disordered proteins” are proteins that can cause cancer and other diseases. Unlike conventional proteins, they lack a rigid structure so change shape, making them difficult to treat. Now scientists have found a way to prevent their shape-shifting long enough for treatment to take effect, offering new possibilities for patients.

5. Smarter fertilizers

Recent improvements in fertilizers have focused on their ability to slowly release nutrients when needed. However, they still contain ammonia, urea and potash which damage the environment. New fertilizers use more ecologically friendly sources of nitrogen and microorganisms that improve take-up by plants.

6. Collaborative telepresence

Imagine a video conference where you not only feel like you’re in the same room as the other attendees, you can actually feel one another’s touch. A mix of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (AR), 5G networks and advanced sensors, mean business people in different locations can physically exchange handshakes, and medical practitioners are able to work remotely with patients as though they are in the same room.

7. Advanced food tracking and packaging

About 600 million people eat contaminated food each year and it’s essential to locate the source of an outbreak immediately. What used to take days or even weeks to trace can now be tracked in minutes, using blockchain technology to monitor every step of a food item’s progress through the supply chain. Meanwhile, sensors in packaging can indicate when food is about to spoil, reducing the need to waste whole batches once an expiry date is reached.

8. Safer nuclear reactors

Although nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide, reactors come with a safety risk that fuel rods can overheat and, when mixed with water, produce hydrogen, which can then explode. But new fuels are emerging that are much less likely to overheat, and if they do, will produce little or no hydrogen. These new configurations can replace existing fuel rods with little modification.

9. DNA data storage

Our data storage systems use a lot of energy and can’t keep up with the vast – and ever-increasing – quantities of data we produce. In less than a century they are set to reach capacity. But breakthrough research is using DNA-based data storage, as a low-energy alternative to computer hard drives, with huge capacity: One estimate suggests all the world’s data for a year could be stored on a cube of DNA measuring just a square metre.

10. Utility-scale storage of renewable energy

But storing energy generated by renewables for when there is no sun or wind has been a barrier to increased take-up. Lithium-ion batteries are set to dominate storage technology over the coming decade, and continuing advances should result in batteries that can store up to eight hours of energy – long enough to allow solar-generated power to meet peak evening demand.

Food as Hallmark to Nationhood

Spinach is back in the news because scientists have discovered a natural steroid-like chemical in it that boosts stamina and performance. Just because the Chinese called the spinach plant ‘Persian vegetable’ –though it arrived there in the 7th century via India—it is “widely thought” to have originated in Iran. No one knows how it arrived in India, but Arab traders took it westwards to Europe and beyond.

Indeed, there are stories aplenty too about how Catherine de Medici—the Italian noblewoman who as Queen of France fostered that country’s culinary revolution—was also devoted to spinach. So much so, we are told, that she not only presciently brought over spinach seeds from her native Florence to Paris, she also decreed its inclusion in many dishes. Hence, even today, spinach-laden dishes are called ‘Florentine’.

India did not lack monarchs, nobles and even ordinary people with extraordinary interests and capabilities. It is unfortunate, however, that edicts and inscriptions apart, most of them exhibited a singular lack of interest in jotting down mundane things like their surroundings, daily activities, scientific achievements or thoughts. India has been let down all too often by its historical unwillingness to chronicle anything.

When it comes to food, we should be grateful that at least the aubergine—brinjal or baingan—is confirmed to have originated here, even though the oldest references to the vegetable once again come from a 6th century text on agriculture from China. Thank goodness, my schoolmate, doctor and now food investigator Manoshi Bhattacharya has dug up at least a few intriguing Indian references to it too!

She says Charaka the 3rd century BCE Ayurveda master mentions a vegetable called ‘bhandi’ or ‘bhanti’. And then nearly 15 centuries later, the epicurean Western Chalukya king Bhulokamala Someshwara III, actually chronicled in his treatise Manasollasa the earliest ever recipe for bhindi masala, which included it being sliced, doused in haldi, crisp-fried and sprinkled on top of a bowl of whipped yoghurt.

At least arhar or toor dal—called pigeon pea in English—is firmly attributed to India, thanks to the fact that its wild relative is still found in peninsular India. It’s providential that arhar remnants have been found dating back to 14th century BC in Karnataka, Maharashtra and even Orissa. At some point it travelled from ancient India’s ports to Africa, and eventually Europe and much later to the Americas.

Interestingly, Charaka once again saved us our blushes by mentioning adhaki (the oldest Sanskrit word for pigeonpea) in his ayurvedic prescriptions as did the ancient physician Susruta in the 6th century BC. Adhaki also crops up in Buddhist and Jain literature from the 2nd century BC onwards. Even the Gupta era Amarkosha compendium lists adhaki, kakshi and tuvarika, all names for arhar dal.

Origins of ancient food ingredients have depended on three major sources: finds during excavations, discovery of wild relatives in a region, and, of course, any written material. When India has so few chronicles and records, we have to depend on the first two, per force. And yet, theories of origin based on archaeological remnants are tricky as they can always be supplanted by newer discoveries.

The age-old battle between India and China on the origin of many things plays out today based on these factors, but archaeological finds are not the last word. For instance, China had claimed hunter-gathers living along the Yangtze River were the first to grow rice, 10,000 years ago. Bits (called phytoliths) of rice were found at a site called Shangshan, which China cited as the ‘origin’ of cultivated rice.

But then intrepid Indian archaeologists excavated a site in Lahuradeva village in Sant Kabir Nagar district of UP and found charred evidence of cultivated rice dating back to almost exactly the time of the Chinese site the 7th millennium BC! And knowing how seriously countries take claims of origin, the radio-carbon dating of Lahuradeva’s rice was done by three reputed laboratories, including one in Germany.

Food has become one of the hallmarks of nationhood these days. Battles rage over authenticity and origin, and much pride is invested in them. Geographical Indicator tags are the logical outcome of this intense possessiveness all aspects of human endeavour. Who knows what cases and claims will be made in the future (not only by China) but India should not regress into documentation neglect ever again.

Japan-South Korea Tiff

Another trade war is brewing. This time it is Japan and South Korea that are slugging it out. Effective July 4, Japan tightened the approval process for shipment of photoresists, hydrogen fluoride and fluorinated polyimide – all materials required in the manufacturing of semiconductors, smartphones and television screens – to South Korea.

Japan says that the move was necessary because some South Korean companies have inadequately managed the chemicals which fall under the category of controlled items due to their potential military applications. Japan has also hinted at illegal South Korean transfers of the sensitive materials to North Korea. Plus, there is speculation that Japan will remove South Korea from a ‘white list’ of countries receiving preferential treatment in trade.

South Korea vehemently rejects the accusations and plans to file a complaint with the WTO. In fact, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has urged Japan to lift the export controls which he said are threatening the two countries’ economic cooperation. But the truth is that ties between Seoul and Tokyo have been fraying for some time now. And much of this is because of the two countries’ testy history and Moon’s political calculations.

From autumn last year, South Korean courts have delivered a series of adverse rulings against Japanese companies relating to forced labour extracted from Koreans before and during World War II. For example, on October 30 the South Korean Supreme Court confirmed previously existing judgments which ordered Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation to pay compensation to Korean plaintiffs.

Then in March this year, a local court approved the seizure of Mitsubishi Heavy’s assets in South Korea to cover compensation for some of the plaintiffs. Nippon Steel and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp have also had their assets seized in South Korea following court orders to compensate plaintiffs over wartime labour. Japan has been forcefully protesting these South Korean court rulings and has pointed to the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between Japan and the Republic of Korea to highlight that claims from that era were settled completely.

The Agreement provided that Japan shall supply to the Republic of Korea $300 million in grants and extend loans up to $200 million and that problems concerning property, rights and interests of the two parties and their nationals are settled completely and finally. No contention of this was to be made thereafter.

Therefore, the South Korean court rulings clearly violate the Agreement and severely disrupt business relations between Seoul and Tokyo. Further, the Moon administration also in last November said that it would dissolve an agreement with Japan meant to settle the issue of South Korean comfort women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels. All of this clearly shows that the Moon administration has been subtly whipping up anti-Japanese sentiments for some time now.

And it is my hunch that Seoul has been deploying this strategy to get local sceptics about its North Korean policy around. For, it is clear that Moon wants to further some form of inter-Korea reunification or peace. But many in South Korea are not sure about this, fearing that they would have to bear the burden of the North’s economic woes. But anti-Japanese sentiments are common to both North and South Korea. So Moon is perhaps allowing dog-whistle anti-Japanese sentiments to shore up domestic support for his North Korea policy.

Against this backdrop, Japan’s export restrictions are a way to get the Moon administration to stop. For, if the restrictions are tightened further and expanded to other items, they will certainly hit the export-oriented South Korean economy. And that in turn is likely to turn South Koreans against the Moon administration. Thus, it would be best for Seoul to re-evaluate its position. Burning bridges with Tokyo may end up doing more harm than good, especially since peace with North Korea is a big gamble with lots of imponderables at this point.

Sunday Special: 105 Year Old Japanese Doctor’s Advice for a Long Life

Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, credited with building the foundations of Japanese medicine and helping make Japan the world leader in longevity, often practiced what he preached.

The physician, chairman emeritus of St. Luke’s International University, and honorary president of St. Luke’s International Hospital recommended several basic guidelines for living a long, healthy life in an interview with Japan Times journalist Judit Kawaguchi. Among them: Don’t retire. And if you must, retire much later than age 65.

In the interview he explained that the retirement age in Japan was set at 65 years old back when the average life expectancy was 68. Now, people are living much longer — the average life expectancy in Japan as of 2015 was almost 84 years — and so they should be retiring much later in life too.

Until a few months before his death on July 18 in Tokyo, The New York Times reports, Hinohara continued to treat patients, kept an appointment book with space for five more years, and worked up to 18 hours a day. He was 105 years old.

“He believed that life is all about contribution, so he had this incredible drive to help people, to wake up early in the morning and do something wonderful for other people,” Kawaguchi, who considered Hinohara her mentor, told the BBC. “This is what was driving him and what kept him living.”

“He always had today’s goals, tomorrow’s, and the next five years’,” she said.

Hinohara’s other guidelines for living well included:

Worry less about eating well or getting more sleep, and have fun. “We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep. I believe that we can keep that attitude as adults, too. It’s best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”

If you want to live long, don’t be overweight. “For breakfast I drink coffee, a glass of milk, and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil in it. Olive oil is great for the arteries and keeps my skin healthy. Lunch is milk and a few cookies, or nothing when I am too busy to eat. I never get hungry because I focus on my work. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice, and, twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.”

Don’t blindly follow what your doctor says. “When a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask whether the doctor would suggest that his or her spouse or children go through such a procedure. Contrary to popular belief, doctors can’t cure everyone. So why cause unnecessary pain with surgery? I think music and animal therapy can help more than most doctors imagine.”

To conquer pain, have fun. “Pain is mysterious, and having fun is the best way to forget it. If a child has a toothache, and you start playing a game together, he or she immediately forgets the pain. Hospitals must cater to the basic need of patients: We all want to have fun. At St. Luke’s we have music and animal therapies, and art classes.”

Always take the stairs and carry your own belongings. “I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving.”

Energy comes from feeling good, not from eating well or sleeping a lot. We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep. I believe that we can keep that attitude as adults, too. It’s best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.

All people who live long — regardless of nationality, race or gender — share one thing in common: None are overweight. For breakfast I drink coffee, a glass of milk and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil in it. Olive oil is great for the arteries and keeps my skin healthy. Lunch is milk and a few cookies, or nothing when I am too busy to eat. I never get hungry because I focus on my work. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice, and, twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.

Always plan ahead. My schedule book is already full until 2014, with lectures and my usual hospital work. In 2016 I’ll have some fun, though: I plan to attend the Tokyo Olympics!

There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65. The current retirement age was set at 65 half a century ago, when the average life-expectancy in Japan was 68 years and only 125 Japanese were over 100 years old. Today, Japanese women live to be around 86 and men 80, and we have 36,000 centenarians in our country. In 20 years we will have about 50,000 people over the age of 100.

Share what you know. I give 150 lectures a year, some for 100 elementary-school children, others for 4,500 business people. I usually speak for 60 to 90 minutes, standing, to stay strong.

When a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask whether the doctor would suggest that his or her spouse or children go through such a procedure. Contrary to popular belief, doctors can’t cure everyone. So why cause unnecessary pain with surgery? I think music and animal therapy can help more than most doctors imagine.

To stay healthy, always take the stairs and carry your own stuff. I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving.

My inspiration is Robert Browning’s poem “Abt Vogler.” My father used to read it to me. It encourages us to make big art, not small scribbles. It says to try to draw a circle so huge that there is no way we can finish it while we are alive. All we see is an arch; the rest is beyond our vision but it is there in the distance.

Pain is mysterious, and having fun is the best way to forget it. If a child has a toothache, and you start playing a game together, he or she immediately forgets the pain. Hospitals must cater to the basic need of patients: We all want to have fun. At St. Luke’s we have music and animal therapies, and art classes.

Don’t be crazy about amassing material things. Remember: You don’t know when your number is up, and you can’t take it with you to the next place.

Hospitals must be designed and prepared for major disasters, and they must accept every patient who appears at their doors. We designed St. Luke’s so we can operate anywhere: in the basement, in the corridors, in the chapel. Most people thought I was crazy to prepare for a catastrophe, but on March 20, 1995, I was unfortunately proven right when members of the Aum Shinrikyu religious cult launched a terrorist attack in the Tokyo subway. We accepted 740 victims and in two hours figured out that it was sarin gas that had hit them. Sadly we lost one person, but we saved 739 lives.

Science alone can’t cure or help people. Science lumps us all together, but illness is individual. Each person is unique, and diseases are connected to their hearts. To know the illness and help people, we need liberal and visual arts, not just medical ones.

Life is filled with incidents. On March 31, 1970, when I was 59 years old, I boarded the Yodogo, a flight from Tokyo to Fukuoka. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and as Mount Fuji came into sight, the plane was hijacked by the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction. I spent the next four days handcuffed to my seat in 40-degree heat. As a doctor, I looked at it all as an experiment and was amazed at how the body slowed down in a crisis.

Find a role model and aim to achieve even more than they could ever do. My father went to the United States in 1900 to study at Duke University in North Carolina. He was a pioneer and one of my heroes. Later I found a few more life guides, and when I am stuck, I ask myself how they would deal with the problem.

It’s wonderful to live long. Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to achieve one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society. Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours seven days a week and love every minute of it.

CEOs can renew their businesses for the digital age

As they are catapulted into the digital era, many businesses are crash-landing in a world they no longer recognize. At their helms are CEOs who have navigated choppy waters for decades and taken their company to market leadership without looking back.

But as a tsunami of digital disruption hits every industry, many business leaders are being capsized. They are seeing the iceberg, but doing nothing about it. FoundersLane, the corporate venture builder, has performed in-depth research into what works best around the world – and here, as a result, are five steps CEOs can take to renew their businesses.

1. Redefine how you think about growth and value

If ever there was an industry ripe for disruption… it’s every industry. If you look for ways to change, you will find them. If you are alert to threats, you will find them, too. The world grows more dynamic every day, and it is naive to think that it does not affect you. Take for instance Stora Enso, the Finnish paper manufacturer. Their corporate history can be traced back to the oldest-known preserved share certificate in the world, issued in 1288. You might not think such a company would be primed for digitalization; however, they have completely embraced technology with a digitalization fund, an accelerator programme, internal innovation tool, external business partnerships and corporations, and theme-specific excellence groups. Initiatives like these foster a mindset that drives everything else.

A good place to start is by examining long-held assumptions in order to educate yourself and your teams about the new business models that outperform every other business model in the digital economy. The more the team understands the finer details of how digital models can create and capture value, the higher the chance of a breakthrough.

2. Envision new ecosystems and your role within them

By 2025, 30% of global economic activity ($60 trillion) will be mediated by digital platforms within new ecosystems. If you can’t figure out which ecosystems you will be operating within, and what role you will play, how can you orchestrate the market? When you start to think through the implications of your industry’s shift into an ecosystem with a myriad of players, organized by platforms, you begin to realize that your usual approach to business needs to be examined: the type of market analysis you perform, the opportunities and threats that exist, and the platform strategy you need to be successful in the future.

3. Non-traditional approaches to capital allocation

By continuing to invest in old strategies in a radically changing economy, you are missing an opportunity. Resource allocation is how corporate strategy translates into action, and that, of course, includes capital. Over 90% of companies do not vary their spending strategy from one year to the next, and yet wonder why profits are stagnating. As you create a new investment strategy, keep in mind that 85% of incumbent digital investments in Europe and the US are generating zero or negative profits after cost of capital. They fail because they are not making investments that change the game; they are simply digitalizing existing business models. By creating a portfolio of digital investments that include platform-based ventures, you can minimise the level of risk involved. And what did Apple, Amazon and Microsoft do when they turbo-charged their businesses? They allocated at least 10% of their annual budget to new digital business models.

4. Execute with entrepreneurs within a versatile organization

Tech entrepreneurs are your untapped resource for an unfair advantage.

It’s time to start co-creating with proven tech entrepreneurs. These are the best people to execute new digital business models. Of course you also need a versatile organization to do this, with a digital business unit that reports directly to you and which includes new tech talent, new skills, new metrics and new incentives. Inviting tech entrepreneurs to collaborate and lead your digital ventures will only work if there is an enticing incentive structure in place – a generous equity stake, for example. This has worked at companies like PingAn – a $90 billion conglomerate currently in pole position in China’s digital insurance race.

The existing company should remain clearly separated from the new companies in your digital venture portfolio or there is a risk that old ways of thinking and existing hierarchies could jeopardize new digital innovation. Leave the current business to focus on its core strengths, but allow it to optimize everything it does, including decision-making, with software and data. This will enable incremental growth at the core, but exponential growth can be realized from the standalone digital unit. A growth board can bridge the gap between the two very different worlds of corporate and digital entrepreneurship. The digital unit has the potential to drive demand for your future core business, as well as enabling learning exchanges from the new venture to the core.

5. Widen your appeal and wow your customers

The new way to unlock rapid growth is to leverage others to serve your customers. What this means is that you no longer have to own all your own assets. Like Amazon and Apple, the most customer-centric businesses on earth are those that leverage others to serve their customers. Rapid expansion comes at the hands of legions of third-party developers and merchants supplying the Apple App Store, Amazon Marketplace and PingAn’s platforms. In a hyperconnected world, it is increasingly possible to think of yourself as orchestrating an ecosystem of innovation, not merely being a supplier of products and services. To make this happen, you need to incentivize others to work with and through your business. The most important third parties to leverage are entrepreneurs; they are your key resource for creating new growth and value in the digital economy.

East Asia is no model for India

There was a lot of buzz about how India should follow the East Asian model even before the Modi government explicitly embraced it in its latest Economic Survey, which argues that the rise of East Asian economies demonstrate that heavy investment and export manufacturing offer the clearest path for India, too, to achieve a long run of 8% growth.

It is true that Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China invested and exported their way to prosperity. But what admirers of East Asian model miss is how alien many of its central tenets were to India’s deeply socialist and democratic culture.

Early on, when these countries were about at the same per capita income level as India is today – the East Asian economies were run by autocrats who favoured a powerful but small government focussed almost exclusively on supporting export manufacturers, which meant investing in roads and factories, not welfare for the poor and weak.

Chinese “state capitalism” promoted growth by steadily withdrawing the hand of the state from the economy, not intervening more heavily. Since the early 1980s, private Chinese companies have increased output five times faster than state companies, and have seen their share of GDP grow from 30% to 70%. When state companies stood in the way of growth, Beijing did not hesitate to cut them off at the knees. Between 1993 and 2005, Chinese state enterprises laid off 73 million people.

East Asia pursued state capitalism with a small s, embracing market forces. Asia scholar Joe Studwell has pointed out that leaders in South Korea didn’t pick industrial champions, they encouraged competition and then helped the winners become competitive in global markets. Governments helped build financial, technical and marketing skills, but even as the left-leaning Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz once put it, “in a way that promoted rather than thwarted the development of private entrepreneurship”.

Contrast those attitudes to India, where government is suspicious of the private sector, and elections are fought on promises of generous welfare benefits for the poor, the elderly, farmers and many others. In East Asia, welfare was conceived as a support system to keep industrial workers on the job. Helping the young, old and poor was seen as the responsibility of family, not the state. Rural workers got few welfare benefits, because the plan was to push them off the farms and into factories.

It was only after the Asian financial crisis in 1997 that Taiwan and South Korea started to shift in earnest from a “developmental” to an “inclusive” welfare model. Taiwan rolled out unemployment insurance, and South Korea extended it to rural labourers, after the crisis had passed. By then, these countries already had average incomes approaching $15,000, or nearly eight times higher than India today. In other words, they began spending on welfare for the poor and jobless only after they could readily afford it.

Today East Asia still has limited welfare systems and small government, with state spending typically around 20% of GDP – a pittance for relatively rich countries. Though India is much poorer, its government spends a similar share of GDP – and spends more heavily on social welfare. India spends around 7.5% of GDP on social assistance, or at least three times more than what South Korea was spending at a similar income level.

Compared to East Asia, particularly in its early years, India’s spendthrift government also has to borrow more, which keeps interest rates relatively high and puts the squeeze on corporate borrowers, adding to the burdens already created by heavy taxes. Taxes for large corporations are still close to 30% in India, compared to the 20% level that was common in many East Asian economies.

The East Asian model also included labour laws designed to protect corporations more than workers. The aim was not to guarantee safety or limit hours, but to give management control. In response to strikes in the 1960s, South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee imposed increasingly strict rules on unions, enforced by the police and soldiers.

In India it is companies who worry about labour law crackdowns. India tried to copy China’s free trade zones but failed to attract many investors, because its laws favour workers over capital. India has tried to encourage large manufacturers, but most prefer to stay small, because if they get big they face stricter labour rules and higher taxes.

The Modi government speaks of pushing labour and other reforms to attract investment, but it also promotes a full buffet of welfare programmes, and its latest budget reflects a commitment to continued welfarism more than new investment. Any country at India’s low per capita income level can’t afford both expansive social spending and enough investment to achieve East Asia style 8% growth.

For that, it would need more than incremental reform. It would need to roll back government, reduce taxes, cut welfare spending and reallocate funds for new roads, bridges and other infrastructure, which in turn would boost private investment. To say any of this out loud is to recognise that it’s not politically possible or even in many ways desirable. As always, India will follow its own model and, most likely, fall short of becoming the next Asian economic miracle.

Saturday Special: Used Properly AI Can Enrich Our Lives

If you didn’t have the ability to see, whose voice would you trust to guide you every day? Who would accompany you on trips, read to you, help you shop? Who would adapt to your routine, pick out your smartest shirt, inform you about the best places to eat, and even remember to record your favourite TV show while you dine?

No human could be so constant, so patient, or so responsive. But AI can.

Empowering and enabling

Work is already well advanced on many of the technologies that could allow seven million blind and visually impaired people in the Arab world to lead independent lives.

Machine-learning algorithms can spot patterns of behaviour and predict what you are likely to need next. Face recognition software can now identify emotions. At Majid Al Futtaim, we have partnered with I.AM+ to develop voice operating systems that adapt to the user, and respond differently based on the context of the conversation. They can now converse in Arabic and any other language.

Properly harnessed, these technologies have the power to enrich our lives.

Unleashing potential

Across the world, there is a desperate need for teachers with the expertise to develop the skills needed for a prosperous future. And AI could one day bring those teachers to everyone, tailoring an education programme to the particular needs and talents of each individual child.

Somewhere right now there is a mathematical genius staring out of the window in a classroom in a remote village, bored because the teacher has their hands full ensuring 50 pupils can read and write. But that child could become more engaged, challenged and inspired, all for the price of a smartphone. Connected to the right software, every pupil could interact with a virtual tutor that is programmed to match its lessons to their aptitudes and interests. Just imagine the untapped potential waiting to be unleashed.

Levelling up

This power of AI to level up can be applied to almost any public service. High-quality healthcare need not be limited to those within a short drive of a major hospital. Diagnostic software can triage patients, identifying the cases that genuinely require the expertise of a specialist purely on the basis of medical need. Improved communications technology and robotics could even put that specialist in the operating theatre of a patient 1,000 kilometres away.

Equal access could be provided to all manner of government services. Take a look at Estonia, where every citizen is given a digital identity, and almost every interaction with government takes place online. Blockchain technology ensures security and protects privacy. Bureaucracy has almost disappeared. Again, just think of the time saved by not having to stand in line, waiting for an appointment just to get a piece of paper stamped.

AI also has the ability to make our world a safer place. In late 2017, Dubai Police implemented the Oyoon (Eyes) project, which uses AI cameras to monitor criminal behaviour in three sectors – tourism, traffic and brick and mortar facilities. The technology identifies lawbreakers using facial recognition and assisted in the arrests of 319 suspects in 2018, while helping to decrease the number of unresolved crimes in the city by 95.5%.

Augmenting human experience

This vision of AI is exciting. But it is not inevitable. We stand between two worlds – the traditional way of doing things is changing, but we don’t yet know what will take its place. The decisions and choices we make now will determine what kind of world will come next and our generation has the immensely thrilling opportunity to lead the transformation.

One thing we must ensure is that AI is seen as an assistant which augments human experience, rather than being viewed as a rival. If people feel they are being replaced by computers, they will resist. However, there shouldn’t be a great cause for concern. While machines and algorithms are expected to displace 75 million jobs by 2022, they will create 133 million new roles. We should be most concerned about how we reskill and prepare people for those roles.

Take the example of self-driving cars. They have the potential to make transport safer, more efficient and therefore less damaging to the environment. But the crucial thing is what will happen to the drivers who currently spend much of their lives behind the wheel. If we get it wrong, we risk leaving them underemployed and resentful. But if we choose wisely, investing that time in teaching and developing new skills, we have the opportunity to move people to a more purposeful and fulfilling future.

Data equality

An essential ingredient to the success of AI is the equality of the data on which it depends. AI learns from its data, so if the data isn’t representative, then AI will learn the wrong lessons.

Unimaginable amounts of data have been generated in recent years, and the pace is accelerating all the time. By 2020, it’s estimated that for every person on earth, an average of 1.7MB of data will be generated every second – that’s more information than you can fit into the average textbook.

But this data is not being collected evenly across the world, or across different social groups. We have vast amounts of data on the affluent residents of Dubai, but little on the less urbanised parts of the Arab world. That means that many of the algorithms used today are tailored to the wants, needs and experiences of certain groups, and not others, which could lead to AI that is more exclusive than inclusive.

Freedom to experience

Of course, many people feel their world is changing too fast, and are concerned that the more we rely on technology, AI, machine-learning algorithms and computers, the more we are losing some of our humanity.

This reaction is understandable, but it fails to see the true and bigger picture. Urbanisation, industrialisation and population growth have made many of our daily interactions more anonymous than they ever used to be. We have become used to being lumped together as ‘consumers’, economic units treated identically. But AI has the power to allow us to personalise the relationship and make us ‘clients’ again – tailoring services to us as individuals with particular likes and dislikes, just like the retail model of old where the local shopkeeper knew their customers deeply, as clients.

More than that, AI has the potential to give us back something even more precious – the time to experience the good things in life. Dishwashers, washing machines and riding on lawn mowers freed millions from household chores – and new technologies will go even further.

Let the machines take care of the distractions, while we concentrate on what is really important to us as humans

Navigate with technology – the GPS and VPS story

Once upon a time, we depended on passersby to seek direction while trying to reach to any ‘not-so-known’ destination. While driving our car to reach to any hotel or any city and sometimes even while visiting our friends and relatives, there was no choice but to stop at the various corner to ask for directions.

Then the new era arrives! Now we speak to our buddy sitting next to us in the car and say, ‘Hey, check the GPS and see whether we are going in the right direction? Just type the destination location and let’s follow the route.’ 

Such technological innovation has changed the way we have been navigating since past few years. There is so much of ease and comfort with lesser dependency, and this is slowly ending up as a habit. 

For people who are unaware of the origin of Global Positioning System (GPS), here’s a short and simple version: ‘GPS is a satellite-based navigation system that was originally designed to assist soldiers and military vehicles and maintained by the United States.’ Later, it has been offered to the general public as a service to navigate their way.

Google is a global leader in the navigation industry and consistently keeps making efforts to improve its navigation services. This week, Google has also introduced another positioning feature to keep track of your loved ones while they are on road. This feature is known as ‘Stay Safe’ helps in tracking the live status of family members travelling in cabs; it also alerts the family if the cab goes off-route by 0.5 km.

As Google leads the market, people are hardly aware of other GPS providers like MapQuest, Maps. Me, MapFactor, etc. Google has been dominating this space through its extensive offerings of Google Maps. However, there are also some big regional providers like GLONASS (Globalnaya Navigazionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema) in Russia and Beidou in China who are prominent names in the industry of those specific countries. 

Now the question is why we still experience incorrect directions occasionally while using GPS. You may have heard many stories stating GPS routes ended into lakes, ponds or closed roads! One of the reasons for such cases is the satellite signals which are not 100% accurate and may not determine your precise location. Another reason accounts to out-dated maps as digital maps providers may not have been updated for road closures or diversions. In fact, a study by the Navigations Systems Research Foundation shows how some vital updates are overlooked by GPS like the quality or the types of roads. Moreover, bad satellite signals along with signal interference add to the common glitches. 

In an endeavor to provide better extensive coverage with updated information to its users, all these navigation service providers are working hard to bring in new tech advancements in the world of navigation. One such technology that’s being experimented is the Visual Positioning System (VPS).

This new visual system is envisaged for Google Maps wherein with greater accuracy, the VPS will use the phone’s camera along with Google’s extensive back-end data to analyze the route. It will allow the camera to detect current location based on nearby shops, signboards, etc. and then will suggest the navigation path for the journey. VPS is predicted to be far more accurate than the Global Positioning System (GPS) and is designed to overcome the challenge of GPS. This technology is useful in urban areas where GPS is often blocked by skyscrapers.

In fact, the Vision Positioning Systems Market is valued at USD 5.35 billion in 2018 and expected to reach USD 10.47 billion by 2025 with the CAGR of 10.07% over the forecast period. There are multiple companies investing in this technology. Scape Technologies raised $8 million in seed funding for further development of its “Visual Positioning Service.” Fly Ventures, LocalGlobe and Mosaic Ventures with funding backed by Entrepreneur First, is also working to bring artificial intelligence (AI) to camera devices so that they can recognize their surroundings. 

With these technological advancements, the service offerings are expected to be more virtual, augmented and customized for each consumer. And we are curious to see what all will the future unfold for us in the world of a new navigation tech industry.

Environmentally Friendly Foods That are Good for Humans

Agriculture is already one of the biggest contributors to global warming. The greenhouse gases released in the form of methane from cattle and rice farms, nitrous oxide from fertilized fields, and carbon dioxide from deforestation to make space for crops and livestock, add up to more emissions than all our cars, trucks, trains and airplanes combined

But agriculture is also one of the biggest causes of biodiversity loss, as habitats are destroyed in favour of agricultural land use, and a focus on a narrow band of crops affects the gene pool.

Three quarters of the world’s food comes from just 12 plants and five animals. Just three of these plants (rice, wheat and maize) make up nearly 60% of all plant-based calories humans consume. Of the earth’s estimated 400,000 plant species, we could eat around 300,000. And yet we only eat 200.

This narrow range of eating habits is having a negative impact: not only are we limiting our vitamin and mineral intake, but overreliance on a few species leaves us prone to disaster with harvests vulnerable to pests, diseases and the impact of climate change.

Governments and organisations around the world are beginning to wake up to the need to increase agricultural biodiversity as an important part of the global effort to improve biodiversity more generally.

With the world population set to hit 10 billion by 2050, and diets getting richer, we will need roughly double the amount of crops we farm now in the next 30 years. This means making better use of our land: getting more out of less space. But also finding new ways of getting our calories and nutrients.

Alternative and sustainable protein sources will play a large part in this as global demands for meat rocket, especially in China, catching up with long-held traditions in the Western diet.

To achieve this, global food preferences need to shift to a more diverse plate that balances nutritional value and flavour with environmental impact, accessibility and affordability. A recent WWF and Knorr report, Future 50 Foods, has compiled a list of foods it says ticks all of these boxes – and taste good. For these reasons, it says, we should eat more of them.

So next time you’re out shopping, why not add some of these to your basket?

1. Orange tomatoes

Red tomatoes are one of the most consumed vegetables globally but their orange counterparts are often sweeter and less acidic as well as containing up to twice as much vitamin A and folate. Many are also heirloom, offering a genetic diversity that can confer better disease and pest resistance. They can be used in similar ways to the more common red varieties, either raw in salads, cooked in casseroles and stews or roasted.

2. Walnuts

Humans have been eating walnuts for 10,000 years – and with good reason. They contain more omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E than other nuts as well as proteins, vitamins and minerals. Commonly eaten dried, they can be used raw in salads or cooked into sweet dishes such as cakes and biscuits or savoury sauces and dressings.

3. Buckwheat

Unrelated to wheat despite its name, this gluten-free grain is healthy, nutty and versatile. It is a higher-protein alternative when making pasta and bread and is commonly used in Eastern Europe and Russia in the form of stews such as goulash.

4. Lentils

Lentils were one of the world’s first cultivated crops. They come in many varieties, from those that keep their shape when cooked, such as puy lentils, to red and yellow lentils, which break down into a puree that can be used in curries, stews and soups. They are often used as a base ingredient for vegetarian burgers – pulses have a water footprint 43 times lower than that of beef.

5. Kale

This brassica has enjoyed a huge surge in interest in recent years as a super veg that can be dried into powders to be added to soups and smoothies or baked into healthy snacks. The stems and leaves can also be eaten raw, roasted and boiled and it is available year round. It is rich in vitamins A, K and C as well as being a good source of manganese and copper.

6. Laver seaweed

With a salty and savoury flavour, laver seaweed, a variety of red algae, provides the umami flavour profile of meat that is often missing from plant-based dishes. It’s most commonly seen around sushi, but is also used dried in soups and salads. Laverbread, where the fresh laver is cooked down and seasoned, is a regional delicacy of Wales.

The big advantage to edible seaweed is that it can be grown and harvested throughout the year, and doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers. It’s also rich in vitamin C and iodine.

7. Adzuki beans

Already commonly used in Japan and other parts of Asia, Adzuki beans are rising in popularity as a versatile legume. They can be cooked, pureed and sweetened to be used as a paste in sweet treats, or used as a savoury ingredient in soups and stir fries. Packed with protein and antioxidants, they are the fruit of a particularly drought-tolerant plant, which produces high yields and requires far less water than many other plants.

8. Broad (fava) beans

A magnet for honey bees, broad bean plants also function as a cover crop, suppressing weeds, enriching the soil and controlling pests between harvests. When young, the pods and beans can be eaten together; as it matures the beans are a fibre-rich addition to risottos, soups and stews, or tasty as a side dish.

9. Nopales

Also known as the prickly pear or cactus pear, nopales are widely cultivated in Central and South America, Africa and the Middle East. There are several bits of the plant that can be eaten: the fruit, the flower, cladodes (flattened shoots rising from the stem of the plant) and oil are all rich sources of nutrients. They also have potential for use as animal feed and to produce alternative energy sources in the form of biogas.

10. Fonio

Fonio has been around for 5,000 years, with evidence that it was cultivated in ancient Egypt. Today it is mainly grown in the dry Sahel region of west Africa, where its drought resistance and ability to grow in sandy or acidic soils make it well-suited to the environment. It matures rapidly (in 60-70 days) and plays an additional role in securing the desert topsoil.

However, fonio requires a lot of effort to convert it into an edible food as each individual grain is tiny and protected by a husk that must be removed. The world’s first fonio mill is due to be built by 2020, which it is hoped will help introduce the versatile, nutrient-rich grain to a wider international audience.

11. Teff

A mainstay in many Ethiopian diets, Teff has recently risen in popularity in Europe and North America, where it has started to be grown. It can cope with both drought and waterlogged soil, is easy to store and is pest-resistant. It has a mild taste and can be used in a variety of dishes. In Ethiopia it is often ground into flour and used in a sourdough flatbread known as injera.

12. Enoki mushrooms

Looking a little alien and great flash-fried in stir-fries, these tiny straw-thin mushrooms grow all year round. They are commonly used in East Asian countries in dishes including salads and soups. And although any effects have yet to be proven, they were one of the first mushrooms to be studied for cancer benefits.

13. Flax

Often used in foods such as vegetarian burgers, but also capable of being used to create fibres for linen, flax is found across Europe, the United States, South America and Asia. The multifunctional seeds – also known as linseed – have been cultivated since the earliest times and can be used as a substitute for half of the standard wheat flour in baked goods like muffins and cakes. Flax oil is also good in dressings and sauces.

14. Black salsify

Part of the sunflower family, the parsnip-like root of black salsify has creamy white flesh under a thick dark skin. It grows well in temperate climates such as France, The Netherlands and Germany and can be boiled, mashed or baked in place of a potato.

15. Sprouted kidney beans

Kidney beans are widely used as a versatile form of protein. But allowing them to sprout multiplies their nutritional value three fold. The beans themselves are full of lectins, which are difficult to digest unless thoroughly cooked. Once they have been, though, they are slightly bitter and pair well with sweetened sauces.

16. Lotus root

Commonly used in Asian dishes, lotus root can be used as a vegetable in dishes such as stir-fries, but can also be pickled and fried. The lotus plant is very resilient, flourishing in most bodies of water and replanting their own seeds.

Weekend Special: Ten Demographic Trends

As demographers convene in Chicago for the Population Association of America’s annual meeting, here is a look at 10 of Pew Research Center’s recent findings on demographic trends, ranging from global refugee and migrant flows to changes to family life and living arrangements. They show how demographic forces are driving population change and reshaping the lives of people around the world.

1. Millennials are the United States’ largest living generation. In 2016, there were an estimated 79.8 million Millennials (ages 18 to 35 in that year) compared with 74.1 million Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70). The Millennial population is expected to continue growing until 2036 as a result of immigration.

By some measures, Millennials have very different lives than earlier generations did when they were young. They’re slow to adopt many of the traditional markers of adulthood. For the first time in more than 130 years, young adults are more likely to be living in their parents’ home than in any other living arrangement. In fact, a larger share of them are living with their parents than with a romantic partner – marking a significant historical shift. More broadly, young adult geographic mobility is at its lowest level in 50 years, even though today’s young adults are less likely than previous generations of young adults to be married, to own a home or to be parents, all of which are traditional obstacles to moving.

2. Americans’ lives at home are changing. Following a decades-long trend, just half of U.S. adults were married in 2015, down from 70% in 1950. As marriage has declined, the number in cohabiting relationships (living with an unmarried partner) rose 29% between 2007 and 2016, from 14 million to 18 million. The increase was especially large among those ages 50 and older: 75% in the same period. The “gray divorce” rate – divorces among those 50 and older – roughly doubled between 1990 and 2015.

Also, a record number of Americans (nearly 61 million in 2014) were living in multigenerational households, that is, households that include two or more adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren. Growing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. helps explain some of the rise in multigenerational living. The Asian and Hispanic populations overall are growing more rapidly than the white population, and those groups are more likely than whites to live in multigenerational family households.

3. Women may never make up half of the U.S. labor force. Women accounted for 46.8% of the U.S. labor force in 2015, similar to the share in the European Union. Although women comprised a much larger share of the labor force in 2015 than in 1950 (29.6%), the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the share of women in the workforce will peak at 47.1% in 2025 before tapering off.

For those women who do work, the gender pay gap has narrowed. Women earned $0.83 for every $1 a man earned in 2015, compared with $0.64 in 1980. The pay gap has narrowed even more among young adults ages 25 to 34: Working women in that age range made 90% of what their male counterparts made in 2015. At the same time, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions in the U.S. In 2017, women make up 19% of the U.S. Congress and about a quarter of state legislatures; some 8% of U.S. governors and 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.

4. Immigrants are driving overall workforce growth in the U.S. As the Baby Boom generation heads toward retirement, growth in the nation’s working-age population (those ages 25 to 64) will be driven by immigrants and the U.S.-born children of immigrants, at least through 2035. Without immigrants, there would be an estimated 18 million fewer working-age adults in the country in 2035 because of the dearth of U.S.-born children with U.S.-born parents. However, immigrants do not form a majority of workers in any industry or occupational group, though they form large shares of private household workers (45%) and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (46%).

Public opinion has turned more positive when it comes to immigrants’ impact on the U.S. workforce. The share of Americans saying that the growing number of immigrants working in the country helps American workers increased 14 percentage points in the last 10 years, from 28% in 2006 to 42% in 2016.

5. The U.S. unauthorized immigrant population fell in 2015 to below recession levels, and the share of Mexicans within this population declined. There were 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015, lower than the estimated 11.3 million in 2009, the last year of the Great Recession, according to new Pew Research Center estimates. The Center’s preliminary estimate of the unauthorized immigrant population in 2016 is 11.3 million, which is statistically no different from the 2009 or 2015 estimates (and comes from a different data source with a smaller sample size and larger margin of error). The 2016 preliminary estimate is inconclusive as to whether the total unauthorized immigrant population stayed the same or changed in one direction or the other. Mexicans remain the largest origin group of unauthorized immigrants, but their numbers have recently declined and their share of the 2016 preliminary data fell to 50%, the first time since at least 2005 that Mexicans did not account for a majority of this population. As the number of Mexicans decreased, the number of unauthorized immigrants from other parts of the world increased.

An estimated 8 million unauthorized immigrants were working or looking for work in 2014, making up 5% of the civilian labor force. The number was unchanged from previous years and the share was down slightly since 2009. Although the estimated number of unauthorized immigrant workers was stable at the national level from 2009 to 2014, 15 U.S. states had increases or decreases.

6. The share of births outside of marriage declined for immigrant women from 2008 to 2014, but held steady for U.S.-born women. Immigrant women play an important role in overall U.S. fertility trends. Between 1970 and 2014, the increase in the annual number of U.S. births was driven entirely by immigrant women, while births to U.S.-born women fell. The important role of immigrant women in driving U.S. births stems from both the growth in the foreign-born population and the fact that immigrant women have, on average, more children than U.S.-born women.

7. Globally, babies born to Muslim mothers will outnumber babies born to Christian mothers by 2035 – largely driven by different fertility rates.The number of babies born to Christian mothers (223 million) far outnumbered the number of births to Muslim mothers (213 million) between 2010 and 2015. However, an aging Christian population – especially in Europe and North America – and high fertility rates among Muslim women is rapidly changing the global religious landscape. The number of births to Muslim women is projected to exceed births to Christian women by 2030-2035, with the disparity growing to 6 million by 2055-2060.

Between 2010 and 2050, the global Muslim population is projected to grow 73%, while the Christian population will grow just 35%, about the rate of overall global population growth. In contrast, people who do not identify with a religion (“nones”) account for 16% of the world’s population, but only 10% of the babies born between 2010 and 2015, meaning that their projected share of the world’s population will decline.

8. The shares of adults living in middle-income households fell in several countries in Western Europe. In seven of 11 Western European countries examined, the share of adults in middle-income households fell between 1991 and 2010. The share of the adult population that is middle income decreased in Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway and Spain (as it did in the U.S.), but increased in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The largest shares of the adult population in middle-income households in 2010 were found in Denmark (80%), Norway (80%), and the Netherlands (79%), while the smallest shares were found in Italy (67%), the UK (67%) and Spain (64%). Each of the Western European countries studied had a larger share of adults in middle-income households than the U.S. (59%).

9. European countries received a near-record 1.2 million first-time asylum applications in 2016. Some of these applicants may have applied for asylum in multiple countries or arrived in 2015, raising the total number of applications across Europe. The number of asylum applications was down only slightly from the record-setting 1.3 million applications in 2015. Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq were the most common countries of origin for first-time asylum applications in 2015 and 2016, together accounting for over half of the total. Germany was the most common destination country in Europe, having received 45% of applications.

10. The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in fiscal year 2016, the most since 1999. More than half resettled in one of just 10 states, with the largest numbers going to California and Texas. Nebraska, North Dakota and Idaho ranked near the top for the most refugees resettled per capita, with rates over two-and-a-half times the national average. And almost half (46%) of the fiscal 2016 refugees were Muslim, the highest number for any year since refugees’ self-reported religious affiliation became publicly available in 2002.

ASEAN Centrality & South China Sea Dispute

At a recent seminar organised to mark the third anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling on the South China Sea (SCS) dispute, Ambassador of Vietnam to India, Pham Sanh Chau, raised some interesting points. The seminar focussed on rising tensions in the SCS amid China’s bellicosity in the region despite the PCA ruling. As things stand, China has continued to build artificial islands and expand reefs and rocks to attain a dominant position in the SCS. Many of these artificial islands have also been militarised with Chinese hangers, radars, missile batteries and fighter jets. This, despite the fact that competing claims over SCS waters and islands exist with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and even Indonesia asserting their sovereignty over different parts of the region.

But Beijing has disregarded all of these as well as the PCA ruling. It points to its ancient Nine Dash lines as historical cartographic evidence of its sovereignty over much of the SCS. And by putting assets on the ground, it has been buttressing its claims via possession. There are multiple reasons why China wants to dominate the SCS region. As the global axis of power shifts from the West to the East, Asia, particularly East Asia, is set to see a period of exponential economic growth. And within Asia, it is the SCS region ringed by the ASEAN nations that are set to emerge as a major node of economic growth. 

This is because of the sheer volume of trade and energy that is expected to flow through the SCS to feed the rising economies of the region. China wants to be the big boss here so that it can mould this vital growth artery according to its interests. It also, perhaps, fears that the SCS can be used by its adversaries to choke it off. After all, 70% of crude bound for China traverses through the region.  Thus, Beijing is putting down military assets in the area to ensure that no one can hold its interests to ransom through the SCS. 

But what China is doing in the SCS is unilateralism. It is nakedly putting its interests above everyone else’s in the region. And in an increasingly interconnected world such unilateralism is bound to create tensions. In fact, if there is one thing that recent conflicts have shown it is that shared prosperity is the only route to long-term peace and security. And so it should be with the SCS. Given that several countries have sovereignty claims here and more than $3.5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the region, it is only fair that mechanisms are put in place to respect freedom of navigation and overflight, conduct joint patrolling, exploit natural resources jointly and resolve disputes via a permanent, mutually acceptable process. 

The only way this can happen is through a legally binding Code of Conduct (CoC). This is currently being negotiated between China and ASEAN. But there are doubts over China’s intentions even here. First, China is said to be averse to making the CoC legally binding. But such a non-binding CoC will be meaningless. Second, China has also shown the propensity to negotiate with other claimant states on a one-on-one basis. It feels that in this way it can bring the full weight of its diplomatic might on smaller states. This is why the CoC must be negotiated by ASEAN as a whole with China, and no ASEAN member should have separate understandings with Beijing. 

True, there are countries like Cambodia and Laos that don’t have any claims over the SCS. But China should not be allowed to drive a wedge between them and other ASEAN members. In fact, ASEAN members must realise that the future success of the ASEAN community depends on their solidarity. In this regard, Vietnam’s Ambassador Pham had some interesting suggestions. He mentioned that Vietnam wants the freedom of navigation and overflight in the SCS to be maintained and economic activities in the region to be secure. But he also said that sometimes he feels it is difficult to reconcile the two. In other words, ASEAN is caught between economic interests and ensuring freedom of navigation, or in trying to ensure freedom of navigation, economic interests are hurt, and in trying to secure economic interests, freedom of navigation gets hurt. 

The only way ASEAN can get out of this is through strengthening mutual trust, controlling all disputes and refraining from changing the status quo. Ambassador Pham further suggested increasing positive developments in the region so as to create stakes in shared prosperity. This is a good idea because at the moment negatives appear to be overtaking positives, as exemplified by the repercussions of the US-China trade war and Washington’s freedom of navigation operations in the SCS and Beijing’s counter to these. 

So the most desirable way forward is to find negotiated solutions, create shared positive momentum, and make ASEAN central to SCS’s future. Both the US and China should talk to ASEAN. And the CoC between ASEAN and China should be concluded on the basis of shared prosperity and justice instead of zero-sum game. 

Trump is good for the media business

In the modest estimation of US President Donald Trump, the (American) media was dying before he ran for and won the White House, and it will die if he leaves office, which is why the press HAS to endorse him – for the sake of its own survival.

“When I ultimately leave office in six years, or maybe 10 or 14 (just kidding), they will quickly go out of business for lack of credibility, or approval, from the public. That’s why they will all be Endorsing me at some point, one way or the other,” he tweeted self-effacingly last week ahead of a “social media summit” he hosted at the White House. In fact, Trump warned, but for him, “even Social Media would be driven out of business along with, and finally, the Fake News Media!” Apres moi, HUGE deluge!

The idea that Trump rescued the US media from its precipitous decline when he won the presidential election in 2016 has some merit. Such was the freakish nature of his candidacy and his personality that the first Republican presidential primary debate in August 2015 smashed cable television viewership records with an audience of 24 million. As he climbed into Twitter with gusto, it was not just his followers’ count that bumped up – from 13 million a week before his election to around 23 million at the time of his inauguration to almost 62 million now.

The social media company itself began making a profit for the first time in its 12 years of existence, and its investors saw share prices bump up more than 15%. By one estimate, Trump was worth as much as $2 billion to Twitter, with one analyst noting with reference to his relentless tweeting that “there is no better free advertising in the world than the president of the United States”.

Trump’s media betes noires too benefited from his rise even as they eviscerated him amid an unceasing cascade of flubs and follies in his administration. The New York Times and Washington Post both reported spikes in print and digital subscriptions and revenues. CNN and its parent company AT&T raked in profits despite Trump berating the network as a loss-making proposition, just as he saw his hometown newspaper as “the failing New York Times”.

A CBS ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Trump’s one time squeeze Stormy Daniels was viewed by an estimated 22 million people, the show’s highest ratings in 10 years. Trump, mooned CBS honcho Les Moonves, “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS [revenues]”.

A year down the line, the so-called “Trump bump” has plateaued somewhat. Some media mavens are starting to talk of a “Trump slump”, believing the left liberal outrage has peaked and the novelty of a tempestuous president has worn off even for right wing outlets that also raked in lolly worshipping their idol. Many Americans have simply switched off from Trumpian era politics. What has not levelled off though is Trump’s own belief that not only is he the sole provider of oxygen that can keep the media alive, but that he can also reshape a trillion+ dollar industry in ways that appear both questionable and inconceivable. Next only to the economy (perhaps even more), Trump talks about the media and is obsessed with the media industry.

The “social media summit” that Trump convened at the White House, ridiculed by the mainstream media, laid out the roadmap for his idea of future media landscape. The summit excluded established industry leaders such as Facebook, Twitter and Google/ YouTube and the social media affiliates of the mainstream media, all of whom the US president sees as liberal and biased. Instead, there was an assortment of pro-Trump, alt-right, conspiracy theorists, wacky wingnuts, and professional trolls who use these company platforms to spread the gospel of Trump.

Calling them true journalists and influencers, Trump made no secret of his admiration for the nature and quality of their output. “Some of you are extraordinary. The crap you think of is unbelievable,” he told them, waxing eloquent about his own genius at putting out dodgy tweets and watching them rack up likes and retweets – “It’d be like a rocket ship when I put out a beauty.”

It might seem diabolical that the leader of the free world should promote hyperbole, if not outright mendacity and falsehoods (“crap” in his own felicitous lingo), as the basis for his idea of an alternative media. But Trump has long believed that the mainstream media is not only biased against him and suppresses conservative voices, but it also has a poor business model not attuned to the “post-truth” era where perceptions matter more than fact. While many liberal pundits believe he has numbed America to his conduct, the unwavering loyalty of his base shows, in the words of a satirist, that Trump is a smart man with a deep understanding of what stupid people want – instant and comforting gratification.

Festooned across the White House social media summit were posters celebrating Trump’s tweets – misspellings and all – and contemporary social media terminology. One explained the meaning of doxing – “Publically (sic) releasing private information for the purpose of harassment and/or the incitement of violence,” a specialty of some of the alt right Trump loyalists. But the most telling quote, emphasising form over substance, came from the humble host: “Thanks – many are saying I am the best 140 character writer in the world. It’s easy when it’s fun.”

17th-century Philosopher teaches us about tolerance

It is telling that the greatest early modern philosophical defender of tolerance was a refugee. Pierre Bayle, a Protestant, fled his native France in 1681. He would lose several family members in the persecution of the Huguenots after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantesin 1685.

Largely forgotten, Bayle’s writings were among the most widely read of the 18th century. In the wake of the tragic attack in Christchurch, and the wider rise of anti-liberal forces globally, we face urgent questions surrounding the reasons for and limits of tolerance. Bayle’s writings defending this value are newly timely today.

What did Bayle say about tolerance?

Bayle’s first statement on tolerance, his 1682 Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet, is arguably his most radical.

Bayle claimed a society would need to protect religious beliefs if those beliefs decisively shaped and improved people’s conduct. But history shows this is not the case. People of all orthodoxies and faiths don’t behave as their faith would dictate, and exhibit the same human traits: ambition, avarice, envy, the desire to avenge oneself, shamelessness, and all the crimes that can satisfy our passions are seen everywhere.

Bayle would point to crusaders, such as those presently being heroised by many on the far and alt-right. He believed them to be evidence, of how even Christianity, a religion of divine love, has been invoked to sanctify “the most frightful disorders ever heard of”.

Bayle concludes all people should be tolerated based on what they do, not what they say. This means even a society of atheists, with good laws, could be as virtuous as a society of religious believers.

Why were his ideas controversial?

Bayle’s Various Thoughts caused predictable outrage. For this extraordinary text contains the first distinctly secular justification of multicultural tolerance. It does so by critically distinguishing the basic dignity of a person and their religious, cultural identity. He says all peoples’ beliefs and rituals should be tolerated, out of respect for their fundamental humanity.

This distinction, which we often take for granted today, was far from universally accepted. And in the current political climate, it can seem we are increasingly accepting the idea that different groups can only ever criticise their opponents, never their own side.

By contrast, Bayle, a Christian, draws on specifically Christian arguments for toleration, at the same time as he criticises the actions and beliefs of other Christians.

As a Protestant, for instance, Bayle claims that is as deeply wrong as it will be ultimately fruitless to try to force people to renounce their freely-formed beliefs, even if they are heretical. This would mean compelling them to go against their God-given consciences, a sin against both God and man.

The limits of tolerance

Yet Bayle grasps the limits of justifying tolerance for different faiths by recourse to specifically Christian, Protestant claims. By appealing to the inviolability of people’s consciences, he brooks a graver problem. This problem has been recently, horrifically exemplified by the tragic events in Christchurch.

Fanatics like the alleged Christchurch terrorist are honestly convinced of the righteousness of their actions, even when these actions involve indiscriminate slaughter of anyone belonging to another group.

The argument respecting freedom of conscience by itself suggests we should tolerate such “conscientious persecutors”. An argument that was intended to protect the vulnerable in this way ends by condoning the most odious extremists.

To combat this outcome, and underscore the limits of tolerance, Bayle finally introduces a further argument which would, via Voltaire, become central to the enlightenment period. Bayle’s argument both starts from and sanctifies a liberal, almost “postmodern” acceptance of irreconcilable cultural differences between groups.

The sheer diversity of religious creeds in the world suggests no one group can know the deepest truths about the human condition with enough certainty to license suppressing, exiling or killing others who do not share their customs and opinions. So Bayle writes: difference in Opinions seems to be Man’s inseparable Infelicity, as long as his Understanding is so limited, and his Heart so disordered; we should try to reduce this Evil within the narrowest limits: and certainly the way to do this is by mutually tolerating each other.

A difficult strength, not a weakness

From Bayle forwards, tolerance was never a weak “anything goes” affair. Those who believe they are entitled to be violently intolerant, however deeply convinced they are of their zealotry, should not be tolerated.

For Bayle, such people claim their creed is the only absolute truth, despite the limitations of human understanding and the many different creeds in the world. They believe they hold a moral superiority which is only warranted by egoism and force. Despite its myriad critics, tolerance demands a difficult strength.

If Bayle is right, respect for difference above all rests upon recognising our own limitations; limitations we share as finite human beings with others whom it is always simpler to dismiss, exoticise, or demonise as wholly alien. This is neither flattering, nor easy.

Canadian Apathy to End Money Laundering

There has been renewed attention on money laundering in B.C., but it has been an open secret for decades that Canada makes it easy to launder money. It is a veritable heaven for criminals to launder their dirty money. And it is so, because the government and politicians are prepared to wink at this perfidy to this economic sin. 

There is a principle of financial investigation so old that it’s often used in its original Latin: Cui bono? The question of who benefits, as the term translates, implies that, if you are trying to solve any crime — particularly one involving money — you must look for who stood to profit.  Despite commendable investigative work in B.C. lately on money laundering, experts say the fact that it has been a problem in Canada is an old, open secret.

As someone tweeted following a story on the C.D. Howe report by Transparency International’s Kevin Comeau, Canadian money laundering was not exactly “new news.”

‘Maytag’ of money laundering

“All available evidence suggests that international drug barons view Canada as a safe place to launder their illegal cash,” said a Maclean’s magazine story cited in the tweet. “In fact, DEA agents laughingly refer to Canada as the ‘Maytag’ of the money-laundering industry.” It was definitely not fresh news. That Maclean’s piece was published about 30 years ago, in October 1989.

Experts say that while Canada has toughened up its laws, especially in banking, every time the government has tried to crack down, the potential beneficiaries of that flow of money have pushed back.

Margaret Beare, author of the 2007 book Money Laundering in Canada: The Chasing of Dirty and Dangerous Dollars, says we are seeing something similar in the latest fight to impose legislation that actually works.

“The current publicity re B.C. laundering shows that a step like insisting on exposure of ‘real’ owners is resisted, regardless of the evidence that it is essential in most corporate or financial dealings,” Beare said in an email conversation last week. There have been proposals that anybody buying real estate in B.C. will have to reveal the beneficial owner, but not everyone’s in favour of that move.  “We still have the exception of lawyers from mandatory reporting and they still can take fees from dirty money,” adds Beare, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall law faculty.

For governments, one of the political difficulties of deciding to crack down is that the inflow of money — estimated in the recent report by Maureen Maloney using the gravity model at about $50 billion a year nationally — boosts many of the things governments like to boost. 

As the B.C. investigations have shown, dirty money boosted real estate, car sales and casino income, as well as parts of the legal and financial sector involved in helping launder the cash. And once it is officially clean, completely above-board businesses are able to profit without legal taint. “Money, dirty or clean, helps the economy until it becomes a distortion,” said Beare.

Experts say some of the money helping to keep Canada’s real estate market hot has come from money laundering, but after it is clean, money is just money, creating businesses and jobsJust as with any other inrush of cash to the Canadian economy, that money went into new businesses that paid taxes. It created jobs. If you didn’t look at the source, the money was good for Canada and Canadians. 

So have successive Canadian federal and provincial governments intentionally turned a blind eye to the criminals who launder their money here? If so, why?

“It is certainly the case, even for someone like me who works in corporate criminal liability and not usually with organized crime, that Canada’s always had, unfortunately, a reputation for being a place where money laundering was perhaps easier than in other places,” says Jennifer Quaid, a lawyer who is a professor at the University of Ottawa.

Wilful blindness?

She says too much time has gone by to claim that political and law enforcement authorities did not know it was happening or understand there were possible solutions that could have been adopted. The difficult question is whether the reason nothing has been done is simply benign neglect or something worse. “Has there actually been kind of what we call a wilful blindness, where you just don’t want to ask the questions, you’re kind of not wanting to look because you don’t want to know?” said Quaid. “If that’s the case, it’s pretty serious.”

Because the process of money laundering is so opaque, pointing fingers in laundering cases is always difficult, said Vanessa Iafolla, who, as part of her research for a forthcoming book, interviews real estate agents and brokerages that have reported suspected money-laundering attempts.

Iafolla, whose work is funded by the Canadian Research Network on Terrorism, Security and Society, said that when financial institutions opposed new rules in the 1980s, they complained the laws were too complicated or too costly, not that they did not want to lose business from laundered cash. Surveillance video shows bundles of $20 bills dumped at a B.C. casino in an example of apparent money laundering. But other dirty money pours into Canada through overseas banks and cryptocurrency. 

Despite the short-term stimulus that dirty cash might bring, all the experts I spoke to worried more about the cost of money laundering to Canadian society. Not only does illegal cash distort markets as in the case of real estate, it has a potentially corrupting effect.

In places such as Mexico or Colombia where the influence of criminal cash has been acknowledged, no one was surprised that the billions of illicit dollars corrupted politicians and police, squeezing out legal business and creating a climate more accessible to criminal elements. 

Canada does not have a special immunity to corruption. And while B.C.’s new public inquiry where witnesses can be subpoenaed and forced to testify may open up a Pandora’s box, experts say it is crucial to get to the bottom of that difficult question: Cui bono?  “I think it’s the defining question,” said Iofolla. “Who benefits and how do we find that out.

Marie Kondo is Wrong

I am a human savant. I hoard. I hoard memories. I hoard handwritten letters, old song books, scribbles that my kids did in school, report cards, fading photographs, first editions as well as torn second hand books, maps bought on the streets , film posters, lithographs, articles cut out from newspapers, even an old typewriter and a camera I once used.

Others store stuff on their phones and computers. I don’t. I hoard them in my tiny study, much to everyone’s disapproval. For everyone loves Marie Kondo.

I hate this Kondo thing. I think tidiness is a disease of the mind. OCDs scare me. For I have spent a whole life discovering that the best things that happen to us, happen serendipitously, not by design. I am the Prince of Serendip. Everything that has come my way, came unplanned– often as the byproduct of some major disappointment. I lost a job only to find a better one. I quit another to discover the excitement of creating an enterprise. I could not finish a novel but found a book of poems waiting within me to be written. Every relationship that ended brought a new one that flowered miraculously. My whole life has been a series of glorious accidents. So why on earth would I want to plan anything? Or tidy up my life?

But more importantly, I learnt very young the art of treasuring small things that most people just throw away. These small things keep alive the best moments of my life. And they have been plenty. I began with little more than the love of my parents and fear of the unknown. Life has taught me to keep faith. The unknown is full of surprises, some wonderful, some scary. The wonderful ones delight us. Scary ones teach us important life lessons. Without these, life would be dreadfully boring. And that is why I prefer to be surprised. I wait for miracles.

Tidiness doesn’t allow for miracles. Neatness is for factory lines, not people. Remove the irrelevant from my life and my entire life would become irrelevant. For everything, big or small, important or useless, new or old, adds up to make relevance. It cannot be plotted on a graph. It can only be anticipated. Welcome it, create the conditions for it and it will happen. That is the mystery of life. That is its magic.

My life starts and ends with words, images, ideas, some of them hopefully captured for posterity. I live with the impossible dream of immortality. Others retire at 58 or 60. But ideas never retire. Dreams don’t die. Accidents don’t stop happening. And a book or a film or a poem is just another accident.  

Marie Kondo will discover that. Once she has tidied up everything, her surrounding ecosystem will be rendered sterile and boring. That’s when she will rediscover the incredible magic of chaos. It could help her escape the slavery of orderliness that often threatens to take over our lives. Luckily, we in India, have learnt to live with disorder, confusion and disarray. It’s a miracle that we reach anywhere in time. It’s a miracle that we survive the potholes life leaves for us on every journey, irrespective of where or in which direction we are travelling. It’s a miracle we arrive where we set out to go.

I didn’t. I didn’t set out to be a poet. Or any of those other things people say I am. I went where life took me. Serendipity has been the key. Just when I got used to the idea of being a poet, I found myself in an editor’s cabin and my life as a journalist began. As I was settling down to the idea of spending a lifetime fighting for just causes—as journalists do– life took a sudden turn and I found myself in Parliament— like Alice found herself in Wonderland after chasing a rabbit with a pocket-watch down a rabbit hole.

Luckily this wondrous country we will live in, despite all its problems and niggling scares, gives us repeated opportunities to rediscover and redefine our lives. All we need is an open mind and a heart forever ready to risk both challenge and change. Life will never be tidy. The options will never be simple. Loose ends will rarely get tied up. But we are born with a special ability. The ability to cope with any problem life throws our way like a curved ball. It’s in our genes. That’s why on Father’s Day, I decided to stop jabbering on about politics in this column and stop to wonder—as I am doing today—what life will serve up next.

I am all excited and waiting.