A human response to a human tragedy


Picture from The Economist

Picture from The Economist

IT HAS been less than a week since the catastrophic loss of Germanwings Flight 9525 and its precious cargo of 144 passengers and six crew. In that short time investigators have pointed the finger of blame squarely at Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old first officer who appears to have locked his captain out of the flight deck and deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps. Though incomprehensible, his gruesome deed is not without precedent for commercial pilots. Fear of falling victim to such asymmetric evil will, inevitably, plague the minds of the 9m passengers who take to the skies each day. It will take time to soothe their concerns. But one Germanwings pilot has already started the healing process, unburdening his heart with emotional, pre-flight speeches to passengers. Britta Englisch, who flew with the airline the day after the crash, posted her experience on Facebook (translated from German):

Yesterday morning at 8:40am, I got onto a Germanwings flight from Hamburg to Cologne with mixed feelings. But then the captain not only welcomed each passenger separately, he also made a short speech before take-off. Not from the cockpit, he was standing in the cabin.

He spoke about how the accident…continue reading

The Reckless Man’s Case for Bombing Iran


Picture from The Atlantic

Picture from The Atlantic

According to a 2013 study by the Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the United States more than $4 trillion. Over the coming decades, that number will likely rise by trillions more. If you include America’s military operations in Pakistan, these wars have taken the lives of roughly 300,000 people. And almost 15 years later, both Iraq and Afghanistan are virtually failed states.

This does not mean The New York Times should never publish op-eds proposing new wars. Although always tragic, war can sometimes be less horrible than the alternative. And it does not mean The New York Times should never publish op-eds by people who have supported disastrous wars. Even commentators who have made huge errors in the past may still contribute useful arguments in the present. At least I hope so, given that I supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq myself.

But what The New York Times should not do is let people who have supported disastrous wars in the past propose new wars casually. If you want to advocate…continue reading

The Crash of EgyptAir 990

Two years afterward the U.S. and Egyptian governments are still quarreling over the cause—a clash that grows out of cultural division, not factual uncertainty. A look at the flight data from a pilot’s perspective, with the help of simulations of the accident, points to what the Egyptians must already know: the crash was caused not by any mechanical failure but by a pilot’s intentional act
Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Wikimedia Commons

Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Wikimedia Commons


I remember first hearing about the accident early in the morning after the airplane went down. It was October 31, 1999, Halloween morning. I was in my office when a fellow pilot, a former flying companion, phoned with the news: It was EgyptAir Flight 990, a giant twin-engine Boeing 767 on the way from New York to Cairo, with 217 people aboard. It had taken off from Kennedy Airport in the middle of the night, climbed to 33,000 feet, and flown normally for half an hour before mysteriously plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean sixty miles south of Nantucket. Rumor had it that the crew had said nothing to air-traffic control, that the flight had simply dropped off the New York radar screens. Soon afterward an outbound Air France flight had swung over the area, and had reported no fires in sight—only a dim and empty ocean far below. It was remotely possible that Flight 990 was still in the air somewhere, diverting toward a safe landing. But sometime around daybreak a Merchant Marine training ship spotted debris floating on the waves—aluminum scraps, cushions and clothing, some human remains. The midshipmen on board gagged from the stench of jet fuel—a planeload of unburned kerosene rising from shattered tanks on the ocean floor, about 250 feet below. By the time rescue ships and…continue reading

Lord Freud: the man who saved the welfare system




It was mid-October and Downing Street was in a panic. Lord Freud, the welfare minister, had been secretly recorded suggesting that disabled people could be paid less than the minimum wage. Labour demanded Freud should go. The No. 10 press office was briefing journalists that he would be out within hours. Craig Oliver, excitable Downing Street director of communications, advised the Prime Minister that Freud was finished. There was talk of the return of the nasty party, and days of dreadful headlines. In the end David Cameron stayed loyal. Within 48 hours the story was forgotten. Welfare reform is the coalition’s most important achievement. Universal Credit is at the heart of welfare reform. David Freud drove through universal credit when many others wanted him to give up, and the technical problems looked insoluble. His title is junior — parliamentary…continue reading

Secularism has weak roots




KULDEEP NAYYAR / Picture from Indian Express


The policies of the Modi government certainly offer little for the uplift of the lower half of society — Muslims and Dalits are worst-hit as upper castes and the rich lawfully appropriate economic gains. Statistics confirm that the haves garner most of the wealth that is created. The only refuge for the poor is religion — they are increasingly frequenting temples and mosques.

Educational institutions reflect this disparity in society. Worse, they are being saffronised. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen had to withdraw his name from consideration for a second term as chancellor of Nalanda University. In a letter to the academic board written with a “heavy heart”, Sen said that it was hard for him not to conclude that thegovernment wanted him to “cease” being chancellor. Further, he warned that academics in the country remain “deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling…continue reading

All aboard the Super Savari Express: an armed tour bus for crime-ridden Karachi

MARCH 25 2015  guardian.co.uk  MARYAM OMIDI

The Super Savari tour is the first of its kind in the city of Karachi.

The Super Savari tour is the first of its kind in the city of Karachi. / Picture from guardian.co.uk

Dubbed “the world’s most violent megacity”, armed muggings, carjackings and extortion are part of everyday life in Karachi, where political and criminal forces vie for ownership of the city. The result is a pervasive sense of fear – one that prevents many Karachiites from even leaving their own neighbourhoods, which are carved along wealth and ethnic lines.

“The culture of driving, and the security issue, disable you from visiting these other places,” says Farzana Mukhtar, an HR consultant. It’s 8am on Sunday, and the places Mukhtar is referring to are the streets of Saddar Town, Karachi’s former colonial centre. In contrast to the mid-week traffic, it is virtually deserted, leaving Mukhtar and his group of camera-wielding tourists to admire the remnants of the city’s colonial architecture and daily life with a sense of wonderment: the few hawkers who have woken early, and the tea shop owners preparing for the…continue reading

Lee was disappointed with India

This September 1, 1970 photo shows Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with Lee Kuan Yew in New Delhi. Photo: The Hindu Archives


Few if any world leaders could have claimed an understanding of as many Indian Prime Ministers as Lee Kuan Yew did. From his admiration of Jawaharlal Nehru, whom he saw as “demagogue who chose not to become a dictator”, to his controversial approval of Indira Gandhi’s imposition of the emergency, Mr. Lee (Minister Mentor Lee or MM Lee as Singaporeans called him reverentially) had very strong views on India’s leaders and where they should have taken India.

Journalist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, who wrote the book ‘Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India’, based on interviews with him spoke of how Mr. Lee told him that he thought the Emergency imposed in 1975 was the right thing for Mrs. Gandhi to do in order to bring “discipline” to India.

“Lee and Indira Gandhi shared a brutal commitment to power, an almost brutal pragmatism and a fascination with mystic predictions of the future. Both dominated the scene around them. So much so that though lacking the alliterative resonance of the loyalist chant during the Emergency, Indira is India, India is Indira, it might be more accurate to recite Kuan Yew is Singapore, Singapore is Kuan Yew,” said journalist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray.

In later years, Mr. Lee met with nearly every Prime Minister, particularly Narasimha Rao, and Manmohan Singh, whom he met frequently in New Delhi and Singapore, as he pushed India for the need to “look east” more. But while Mr. Lee had an easy and often warm relationship with Indian…continue reading

An astonishing record

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore


ONE of the world’s great economic success stories, Singapore owes much of its prosperity to a record of honest and pragmatic government, the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew, who has died aged 91. He retired as prime minister in 1990 but his influence shaped government policy until his death, and will continue to do so beyond. Born when Singapore was a British colony, the young Mr Lee saw the humiliation of the colonial power by Japan and the tough years of Japanese occupation. A brilliant scholar, he thrived in London and Cambridge after the war and came back to Singapore to assume a leading role in the anti-colonial struggle, co-founding the People’s Action Party (PAP), which governs Singapore to this day. Mr Lee was its leader, and Singapore’s prime minister, when it won self-government from Britain in 1959. He led Singapore into merger with Malaysia in 1963 and, after their divorce in 1965, as a small, fragile independent nation. Singapore’s prosperity and orderliness won admirers East and West, and came to be viewed as a kind of model.

Mr Lee’s political views, however, were controversial. Decrying the decadence and welfarism which he thought had sapped the strength of countries such as Britain, he supported tough laws and punishments, making Singapore orderly, clean and disciplined. He was quick to use British-era legislation, including a draconian Internal Security Act, to quell anything that smacked of subversion. Defamation suits were used to tame the press and, on occasion, bankrupt his critics. The current prime minister is his son, Lee Hsien Loong, ensuring continuity of a sort. The elder Mr Lee left the cabinet in 2011, after the PAP’s worst-ever general-election performance. It still won 60% of the vote, but there…continue reading

Mandal vs Mandir



INDER MALHOTRA /Picture from Indian Express

It was a blunder on V.P. Singh’s part to announce his acceptance of the Mandal Commission’s report recommending 27 per cent reservations in government jobs for what are called Other Backward Classes but are, in fact, specified castes — economically well-off, politically powerful but socially and educationally backward — in such hot haste. He knew that the issue was highly controversial, deeply emotive and potentially explosive, which it proved to be instantly. But his top priority was to outsmart his former deputy and present adversary, Devi Lal. He even annoyed those whose support “from outside” was sustaining him in power. BJP leaders were peeved that they were informed of what was afoot practically at the last minute in a terse telephone call. What annoyed them even more was that the prime minister’s decision would divide Hindu society. The BJP’s ranks demanded that the plug be pulled on V.P. Singh but the top leadership advised restraint, because it was also important to keep the Congress out of power. The party leadership was aware of the electoral clout of the OBCs, who added up to 52 per cent of the population.

As for Rajiv Gandhi, he was totally and vehemently opposed to the Mandal Commission and its report. He eloquently condemned V.P. Singh’s decision when it was eventually discussed in Parliament. This can be better understood in the perspective of the Mandal…continue reading

Gold seizure highlights dilemma of diplomacy with North Korea

A UN report details a web of illegal trade networks, often facilitated by DPRK diplomats. What does this mean for how the world engages with the secret state?

North Korean embassy in Beijing

Outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing. A UN report found evidence that diplomats have abused their powers to get round sanctions. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images / Picture from guardian.co.uk


MARCH 19 2015 guardian.co.uk Matthew Cottee

It also found evidence that DPRK representatives in embassies and trade missions “continue to play key roles in facilitating the trade of prohibited items, including arms and related material and ballistic missile-related items.” The seizure in Bangladesh is not unique, nor is it as troubling as other cases. In 2012, two officials from the North Korean trade mission in Minsk, Belarus werereportedly imprisoned in Ukraine for attempting to obtain sensitive information relating to missile production. Last year the French ministry of economy and finance froze the assets of three North Koreans who had infiltrated UN agencies, Unesco in Paris and the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome, “on the grounds that they were likely to engage in activities prohibited by the resolutions”.

All three were simultaneously working on behalf…continue reading