« December 2005 |
| February 2006 »
I won't be around for a couple of weeks now, so won't be able to write much about this year's Davos meetings. Suffice it to say - it'll be worth coming back to.
Bye for now, and see you in Amsterdam in early February.
Things got a lot colder in Europe today.
As if the 'sabotage' of pipelines, not to mention the deliberate cutting off of energy supplies by Russia in order to look after its own populace during the cold snap weren't enough, there was this rock aswell. A real rock star, one might say.
The ludicrous nature of the story was not lost on the British media who pounced on it like a pack of dogs. Basically, British agents were accused of planting surveillance systems in Moscow, in the shape of this... rock.
But it all highlights something that had until now been pretty much under the surface. Despite the Cold War fizzling out some time during the 90's, there are still those in London and Moscow who retain a Cold War mentality. That's not progress.
Moreover, the ongoing shenanigans involving Gazprom and Russia's immediate neighbours, not to mention other European nations that use Russian oil and gas, reminds of the essential interdependence of the international system.
It's a fragile state of affairs where, if Russia decides to cut off the energy, we lose out. Simple. They still may not be a superpower any longer, but they still wield considerable clout when it comes to resources.
The Bear, it appears, is back on the scene.
BBC Articles reprinted below.
Continue reading "Rocks, Pipelines and a Cold War on a Cold Day" »
Another excellent report from The Guardian's Jonathan Watts in Beijing. The last two paragraphs in particular really made me smile:
In the southern boom city of Shenzhen, thousands of armed police were deployed earlier this week to quash a protest by more than 3,000 prostitutes and karaoke hostesses who were left without jobs after a crackdown on massage parlours and discos.
A nightclub owner said: "It has paralysed the local economy."
So, basically, Shenzhen runs on hookers and KTV. No surprises there.
In seriousness, the article highlights the very real problems of China's rampant economic growth. It's clear that the People's Republic is no longer interested in the rural workers it was formed to champion, and that the RMB is king these days.
And this is simply not sustainable. China is not like Europe or America - the only place with the capacity to feed 1.3 billion people is China (perhaps with a bit of help from Brazil, granted). There's no Common Agricultural Policy here. So urbanisation can only go so far - I'm afraid that if China's urban populace and manufacturing workers want to eat, there will have to be millions of poor farmers toiling the land to feed them. It's that simple.
Ultimately it has to rely on itself, and it knows full well that when things go wrong everyone starves to death.
I actually kind of like Wen Jiabao, too. He has at least the warm, friendly persona that Hu Jintao lacks, and has said things off the cuff once or twice (even if he has had to retract them). The next quoted paragraph is very interesting indeed, and I suspect Wen may have had a hand in this information coming out:
Disputes over land have emerged alongside - often related - issues of pollution and corruption as the major causes of unrest. On Thursday, the ministry of public security said there were 87,000 protests, riots and other "mass incidents" last year, up 6.6% on 2004.
The PSB actually told us about the amount of protests. Even if it's inaccurate or a downright lie, which it may well be, that's still big progress indeed.
Article reprinted below, and see also Dave's analysis from the US. Photo taken from Le Monde, Kunming protests, January 2005.
Continue reading "China's Real Economy" »
Let's hope not. Despite the inevitable allegations of fraud and vote rigging, the results do seem realistic, with no party obtaining an overall majority. What this election means for the future is hard to tell, and inevitably the bloodshed will go on for some time to come yet, but at least it is an election.
Arguably, one of the greater ambitions (or ulterior motives, depending on your point of view) on the Iraq invasion and the War on terror in general is to impose some kind of democratic system on a couple of Islamic countries, and hope that the movement spreads. There has perhaps been some limited success with this, Lebanon and Kirgizstanfor example. All good so far.
But hold on a second. Is it really fair to impose democracy? Isn't it better for the people of a country to choose democracy for themselves? This is the argument of this week's Economist special feature (also reprinted below).
While some reformist Islamic nations, Turkey for example, are striving to be more and more 'Western' in both their outlook and internal affairs, I'm not sure that it is effective or even fair to make democracies by force. There is the argument that modern conservative Islam is not necessarily even compatible with Western liberal democracy - it's a cultural thing, not a political one.
And finally, and most importantly, the whole essence of democracy is choice. If people don't choose to choose, what hope is there for free and fair elections?
Articles reprinted below.
Continue reading "A False Dawn in Iraq?" »
This is the way things are going:
Russia, though slowly shifting towards the west's position, is still holding out hope that Tehran may yet accept a compromise. China, which has close economic ties with Iran, is the most hardline in opposing tough action against Tehran.
One European diplomat said: "What is really crucial is support from Russia and China. China does not look too good. China is the major obstacle."
At the moment, the subject is Iran's referal to the UN Security Council due to its nuclear ambitions. Arguably it's only a blip, due to shabby-taxi-driver-cum-zealous-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's combatative approach, but it's a microcosm of the times.
The UN Security council is certainly becoming more and more fractured. Previously a serial abstainer, China is now beginning to pull its weight. It has the veto, and that means it has the power.
Last year it was Sudan over Darfur. Again, China vetoed action to protect its oil interests. And there'll be more incidents like this in the future, no doubt.
Of course the other four nations more often than not will act purely in their own interests, and usually have done - most notably the US. So there is certainly an element of hypocrisy here.
But surely the purpose of the UNSC is to establish consensus between the world's premier military and economic powers in order to provide a safer and more secure planet for all 6 billion of us.
Article from The Guardian reprinted below.
Continue reading "Microcosm of the Future" »
Check out the photos - uploaded at http://www.philip-sen.com/india.html
Say so myself, but I'm gradually getting better and better...
This evening being my last in India, and with time running short, we took a trip to the Swaminarayam Akshardham Temple on the eastern outskirts of New Delhi. Having seem it many times from the toll road, I had little idea of what to expect inside.
If you've ever tried to imagine what Angkor Wat might have looked like when it was first put up, look no further than here. Inaugurated as recently as November 2005, every inch of this stunningly constructed complex is packed with carvings. No less than 15,000 artisans spent four years chipping away at sandstone blocks, and the result is absolutely exquisite, if a little over the top.
The main temple is surrounded by a frieze depicting the elephant in mythology and folklore; the interior is a virtuoso display of religious art; and there are fountains and gardens too. And this is just the free part - there's a raft of other exhibitions and filmshows to keep you occupied for an entire afternoon at least.
Yet the whole experience left me just a little confused. If the time, effort, money and sheer organisational skill that went into this were to go into the rest of New Delhi, it would become the world's number one city by next week.
It can be done. India has the people and it has the skill. It just can't be bothered. That's a shame.
It's always strange revisiting the places of your youth. This was where I used to play the first couple of times I came to Delhi, aged six and 10, back in the 1980s when things were somehow different.
I worried that it no longer existed; the auto driver had serious issues finding it, but maybe that was because he was from Bihar and knew little more of Delhi's geography than I. When we finally got to the right street, I hardly recognised the place and even ventured into the ashram next door by mistake.
Finally, I found it. It was strange. I don't remember ever stepping inside the temple itself before today, and it took me a while to find the stone animals in the gardens. Maybe it's because I'm a few feet taller, but they just didn't look the same. They were my favorite things about India when I was a child, but now they just seemed a bit sad and unloved.
Built in the early 20th century, the temple works on the understanding that it is open to all castes. Inside, paintings embedded in the walls illustrate teachings from the Hindu scriptures in both Hindi and English. I didn't recognise a thing.
But just as I was leaving it all came together. I glanced across at the big stone tiger, and upon its neck was a small boy, about 10, enjoying the ride. Beside it two more boys were sliding down the polished marble slope beside the stairs, and I even discovered again the dragon's mouth that leads into the cool interior of the grotto.
All things come full circle, in the end.
Not far from Nehru Place in south Delhi is the Baha'i Temple, an exquisite creation of modern architecture that could fairly be said to rival the Taj Mahal - given a few centuries to mellow it.
I knew very little of the Baha'i faith before, and was interested to be given a leaflet by one of the attendents.
Apparently, the principles of Baha'ism are as follows:
• The oneness of mankind.
• Universal peace upheld by a world government.
• Independent investigation of truth.
• The common foundation of all religions.
• The essential harmony of science and religion.
• Equality of men and women.
• Elimination of prejudice of all kinds.
• Universal compulsory education.
• A spiritual solution to the economic problem.
• A universal auxiliary language.
All well and good - in fact I broadly agree with pretty much everything there aside from the 'spiritual' solution to the 'economic problem'. Economic problems need economic and political solutions, I'm afraid; it may do sometimes, and I've seen it, but at the end of the day religion doesn't always fill rice bowls.
On the other hand, being a cynical 21st century urbanite, I'm not going to actually convert and follow the faith just on a cursory reading of the principles. And maybe it's just me, but I thought there was something a little strange, if not creepy, that most of the women attendents (who I presume to be Baha'i followers) were pretty young Europeans.
Far be it from me to make any rash suggestions, but this one fact raised my suspicions a little. It just seems so bourgeois. So middle class. So faux alternatif.
Not that I'm not bourgeois or middle class myself, but that's by the by. Never mind.
Finally polished off Francis Fukuyama’s influential 1992 treatise on political philosophy, The End of History and the Last Man.
For the most part, it makes sense. One of Fukuyama’s main themes is exploring the ideas of Hegel (and his critic, Kojeve) in contemporary contexts. Coupled with frequent references to Locke, Hobbes, Nietzsche and the like it is a fairly erudite analysis of modern life.
The author concentrates particularly on the master-slave relationship and the concept of ‘thymos’, a Greek term referring to man’s spirit and will to prove himself.
This he applies to various political theories, with the key principle being that modern liberal democracy is the ultimate – if not the perfect – political model and thus ‘the end of history’ as in the struggle to create an ideal state.
Then again, my big problem with the text – and one that Fukuyama makes only passing reference to without serious consideration of the implications – is the question of culture.
Continue reading "The End of 'The End of History'" »
The very reasons we invaded Iraq were:
a) the presence, or potential presence, of WMD
b) the dangerous rhetoric and past behaviour of a clearly uncontrollable and egotistical leader
Though, to be fair, President Ahmadinejad of Iran doesn't have the same track record of death and destruction as Saddam, he certainly seems to have similar intentions.
And this leaves the UN, the IAEA and everyone else in quite a tizz.
It would surely be complacent to allow Iran to develop nuclear technology - yet surely it is their right as a developing nation to do so.
It would surely be insane to take action against them, but with Ariel Sharon close to the end and the Middle East approaching another state of flux similar to that triggered by the death of Yasser Arafat, more than just strong words are required.
It is at times like these that the role of the international community - or lack of it - comes to the fore. And all the players are involved - Russia and China have their interests just as the EU and the US have their qualms.
Article from The Guardian reproduced below.
Continue reading "Catch-22 for the IAEA" »
Worth noting for a future look - a website run by Toronto's Munk centre for IR that covers all things I'm into, basically.
Here's its rubric about the field it covers:
The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada focusing on advanced research and development at the intersection of digital media and world civic politics.
A "hothouse" that brings together social scientists, filmmakers, computer scientists, activists, and artists, the Citizen Lab sponsors projects that explore the cutting-edge of hypermedia technologies and grassroots social movements, civic activism, and democratic change within an emerging planetary polity
Check out also the BBC story below on the Great Firewall of China, something I encountered daily while I was there. However, it's my suspicion that contrary to the article's suggestion, the censors are now able to suppress proxy servers too.
Continue reading "Citizen Lab" »
Seen it all now. The area into which my Dad has just moved, Kalkaji in South Delhi, is meant to be one of the city's better-class suburbs.
Yet today we were attacked by monkeys!
A family of dirty brown urban rhesus macaques. The male is pretty big and ugly - it looks like he's been hit in the face by a cricket bat.
As if it's not enough with all the cows, dogs, wild pigs (like we saw in Khajuraho) and the like, it would be nice to be able to hang out your washing without it being trashed by malicious primates, and even better to feel safe when you step out onto the balcony...
There is a reverence involved in the art of spotting a tiger in the wild; a reverence, should I say, mixed with more than a little fear.
The Gypsy landrovers used for the safaris in Corbett Park are well built but open-topped; though this affords the best view, it leaves you feeling just a little vulnerable. Not to mention surprisingly cold, especially in the bitter climate of Kumaon in winter and before dawn.
But there is little if any danger today. Even though in the far east of Kumaon a human fatality was recently reported, in the words of Jim Corbett: “A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it.” Thus not all tigers are maneaters.
Indeed, it is the case that they are in more danger from mankind than we from them. Witness the savage depletion of India’s tiger population in recent years in order to fuel the market for Chinese ‘traditional medicine’ and the illegal fur trade. Even the national parks are not free of poachers and despite the authorities’ best efforts, news of dead tigers continues to make the Indian papers.
Continue reading "In Search of Tigers" »
I’m tracking a tiger, a large male by the looks of it. You can tell by the breadth and shape of its footprints or ‘pugmarks’; even to my untrained eye the trail is clearly visible in the soft sand by the riverbed. Our guide speaks to us in hushed tones. The anticipation is palpable. We are within sniffing distance for sure.
But all of a sudden the tracks veer off into the undergrowth where the jeep cannot follow. There’ll be no sightings today, it seems. There’s still time yet, though: it’s just seven am and with the veil of mist lifting from the forest around us its inhabitants are slowly beginning to stir.
This is tiger country. India’s recently-formed Uttaranchal province borders Nepal to its east and Tibet to the north, and the part of it we’re in was made legendary by one man, his guns and most importantly, his notebook.
Continue reading "In Search of Jim Corbett" »
It’s both an advantage and a headache of India that, with such a huge population, the wealthier classes can make use of the masses as servants and helpers.
In one way it’s a method for keeping the poor in employment, but in another it reinforces the unhealthy system of caste and social immobility. And finally, it really can be a pain.
Today’s adventure began smoothly enough. My cousin Bacchu hired a driver and a car to take us to Corbett Park: it seemed a relatively simple and economic method compared to the rigours of tackling Old Delhi station.
However, halfway through the journey we began to feel suspicious. The driver had merrily sped past an obviously-marked turning for Corbett Park, and my assumption that ‘he knows what he is doing’ eventually began to crumble.
By the time we reached Haldwani and our man began asking for directions to Naini Tal – significantly out of the way of our intended destination – I knew something had gone wrong.
Of course, the driver spoke no English, as had been promised: for all I know he had not even been told the correct place to go to.
The problem with hiring people is that if you need something done properly, you have to do it yourself. Ironically this is one of the major difficulties in India. The attitude of my family is very much that ‘there are jobs for us, and there are jobs for other people’ but this is not helping me get from A to B, or even get food when I want, get my washing back when I need it etc. etc..
I really do feel like a bumbling colonialist all of a sudden.