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Seven questions with Parag Khanna

Friday, 13 May, 2016 0 Comments

After five days of posting about CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, it’s time to talk to the author, Parag Khanna, about his book. Here goes!

1. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What inspired you to write Connectography?

Parag Khanna: My love of geography and travel, and my obsession with geopolitics going back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and my introductory class in Geopolitics taken 20 years ago at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. All of the many ideas that had not yet found expression in The Second World and How to Run the World needed to be contained and also wrapped in a meta-theory that also encompassed these previous books. I also wanted to update these with new insights as these countries evolve, and include more recent travels.

2. Eamonn Fitzgerald: For writers, geography remains a very popular science for interpreting our world. Four years ago, Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate described how countries’ histories have been shaped by their relationships with water and with land. Last year, Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography explained how a nation’s geography affects its internal fortunes and international strategies. Is that kind of terrain-based approach outdated? Are you saying in Connectography that geography is no longer destiny?

Parag Khanna: Not at all. Robert Kaplan is a dear friend and mentor and inspiration for me. Connectivity doesn’t invalidate geography but builds on it. Connectivity is how we make the most of our geography. Some places turn their geography into an advantage — for example Singapore and Dubai — while others don’t. China is surrounded by 14 countries but now it is using connectivity across terrain to extend its geopolitical influence in non-military ways. Connectivity is now a deep part of our relationship with geography, and that is what this book explores.

3. Eamonn Fitzgerald: One of the hottest new words coined during the last decade was “crowdsourcing,” which means getting people to contribute to a project via a website where they can make contributions. Why should “connectography” be part of our vocabulary a decade from now?

Parag Khanna: Connectography should be part of our vocabulary because geography alone assumes that geography is an unchangeable force. However, we now use topographical engineering to modify our geography, and that tells us a great deal about the fate of human civilization than geography alone.

Parag Khanna

4. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Responding to a journalist who asked what is most likely to blow a government off course, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reputedly said, “Events, dear boy, events.” Did you encounter any unexpected events when writing Connectography that forced you to rethink a chapter or change a section?

Parag Khanna: Great question. In fact, I only found events that reinforce my conclusions. During the time of writing, Russia invaded Ukraine, but the gas pipelines are the really important long-term contest, and it is building a bridge to Crimea. In other words: Infrastructure is a key tool and battlefield. China began dredging sand to build up South China Sea islands — yet more topographical engineering. Every day I see more examples of the thesis coming to life.

5. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What’s the most surprising response (positive or negative) you’ve had so far about the book?

Parag Khanna: I’m so pleased with people’s appreciation of the maps. It has been a global outpouring of excitement and admiration for the maps made by two truly amazing teams of digital cartographers whom I worked with at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m so gratified that their intense work has received such widespread recognition.

6. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Can you sum up the three key points you’d like the reader to take away from reading Connectography?

Parag Khanna: Rather then enumerate takeaways, I simply want readers to gain an appreciation for the categories of connectivity (transportation, energy and communications) that we have ourselves built and have such a profound impact on our lives. This premise plays out in so many ways in the book (economics, climate change, geopolitics, urbanization) that I hope readers will learn about many issues they are not personally familiar with.

7. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Connectography has been published and you’re busy right now promoting it, but what’s next for Parag Khanna?

Parag Khanna: That’s a great question. This was a trilogy, and I don’t know the word for a series of 4, so I will not write another one. I intend for this to have a long shelf life, so we shall see!

Our thanks to Parag Khanna for taking the time to answer these questions. CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization is a useful guide to globalization and its impact on trade, communication and culture. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” says Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future, but where we’re going, we do need maps and Parag Khanna is pointing us in the right direction.


Drezner vs. Khanna: KO

Thursday, 12 May, 2016 0 Comments

 CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization “Parag Khanna may well be the most connected man alive,” writes Daniel Drezner in his New York Times review of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. That flattering description of the author is followed immediately by this sentence: “‘Connectography’ represents Khanna’s latest effort to arbitrage his personal networking skills into a theory of geopolitics.” With this kind of praise, we are in Alexander Pope territory, where a compliment is so subtle that it amounts to no compliment at all, or even entails condemnation. The tactic of damning with faint praise was articulated in Roman times by Favorinus, but the expression comes from Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot (1733): “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, and, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.”

Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, does not rely on indirect criticism, however, of Khanna’s new book. His critique is of the candid kind and some of his observations are scathing. Example:

What is particularly odd is that Khanna believes he is evincing a savvy worldview and yet offers a utopian vision of connectivity’s effect on people. He insists that the forces of connection will overwhelm the forces of division. In the book’s most blasé sentence, Khanna argues that “the virtues of tolerance and coexistence will come to the Middle East through a combination of ‘to each his own’ cartographic remapping and supply chain interdependence.” I would gently suggest that there will be a very long and very violent stretch between the current Middle East and Khanna’s placid vision — and that it’s the bumpy part that is salient right now.

Then, right at the end, Drezner closes in and lands a devastating KO: “I wish that Khanna were right about the power of connectivity. The world would be a better place. I fear, however, that he does not know what he is talking about.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll have a seven-question interview with Parag Khanna.


Mappa Mundi

Wednesday, 11 May, 2016 0 Comments

Welcome to our third day of reading Parag Khanna’s new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. Maps featured in the first post here on Monday and they’re central to today’s post as well. In the introduction to his book, Khanna follows the Prologue with A Note About Maps in which he writes: “Mapping the complex dynamics among the three greatest forces shaping our planet — man, nature, and technology — will require a whole new kind of geographic literacy.” Technologies such as Maptitude, StatPlanet, Project Tango and GeoFusion are some of the new tools of the new cartographic trade when it comes to adding economic and cultural data to maps, and that’s just the start, says Khanna:

“With the rise of the global sensor network dubbed the ‘Internet of Everything’ (Internet of Things + Internet of People), our maps will perpetually update themselves, providing an animated view into our world, as it really is — even the five thousand commercial aircraft in the sky and the more than ten thousand ships crossing the seas at any given moment. These are the arteries and veins, capillaries and cells, of a planetary economy underpinned by an infrastructural network that can eventually become as efficient as the human body.”

Those aircraft and ships are bound for port in what Parag Khanna calls “mankind’s most profound infrastructure” of the 21st century: the city. By 2050, there will be at least 40 cities with a population of more than 10 million people — the megacities.


Emporium Dubai

Tuesday, 10 May, 2016 0 Comments

It’s the second day here of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization by Parag Khanna, and we’re reading Part Four, “From Nations to Nodes,” which kicks off with “If You Build It, They Will Come.” The chapter is mainly about Dubai, a city Khanna calls “Home to the World,” and, coincidentally, it’s one of the few sections of the book that contains a reference to language: “Money has long replaced Arabic as the official language of Dubai. Its daily lingua franca has become English and among South Asians Hindi and Urdu, but the glue that binds everyone together is the desire for stability, prosperity and connectedness.”

Driven by this yearning for stability, prosperity, connectedness and the convenience of a lingua franca, 250,000 Chinese now reside in Dubai, as do 30,000 Somalis and 40,000 Kenyans. Ashish Thakkar, a Ugandan of Indian descent, “got his start shuttling back and forth to Dubai’s bazaars to purchase secondhand computer parts,” writes Khanna, but he also quotes Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who speaks of the “agony of being a minority in my own country.” The “most noted intellectual dissident” of the emirates used the “extinction” word in a conversation with the author, which gives Khanna occasion to ponder the price of transforming Dubai into a home to the world: “It is as if the Filipina or European boutique owner greeting a fellow foreigner with the Arabic ‘As-salamu alaykum’ is doing so out of respect to a local population that no longer exists.”

More connectography here tomorrow, and, a special treat, we’ll have a seven-question interview here on Friday with Parag Khanna.

Dubai


Culture was about chaps, geography was about maps

Monday, 9 May, 2016 1 Comment

We’ve moved on quite a bit since the maxim “culture is about chaps, and geography is about maps” used be trotted out at the club when the cigars and the brandy were being passed around. Ours is a networked world and neologisms are needed to define and explain it. Parag Khanna has come up with “connectography” to explain what’s going on and his new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, is our reading for the remainder of the week here. In essence, Khanna’s thesis is that cities will matter more than states and supply chains will be a more significant source of power than soldiers. Updated for the 21st century, the new maxim states that culture is about connectivity, geography is about grids and the map is no longer the territory.

To help us will recognize the forces that will define our world, we need to understand the links between the old and the new Silk Roads, says Parag Khanna.

More connectography tomorrow.


Putin, perfidy and pastry

Saturday, 23 April, 2016 2 Comments

There are many compelling reasons to read Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews. Perfidy is one. The villainy of Russia under Putin is well documented by non-Russian media, but it acquires a new pungency in a fiction that mirrors fact. Snippet:

“What fuelled the Kremlin kleptocracy, what motivated it, was not to bring back the Soviet Union, nor to reinstall the worldwide dread generated by the Red Army, nor to formulate a foreign policy based on national security requirements. In Russia today, everything happened to maintain the nadzirateli, the overseers, to protect their power, to continue looting the country’s patrimony.”

The characters in Palace of Treason ping-pong around the world — from Paris to Moscow to Athens to Vienna to Washington — as they attempt to steal secrets and outdo each other in a deadly game of influence zones, encompassing Europe and the Middle East. All of this activity demands feeding and Jason Matthews has come up with a novel touch: each chapter ends with a short recipe for one of the delicacies consumed by the protagonists. When an Iranian nuclear scientist is caught in a honey trip, he’s served shirini keshmeshi: Persian pastries dotted with raisins. “Jamshedi goggled at the cakes. Here he was, sitting with a blackmailing Russian intelligence officer, spilling his country’s secrets, and this prostitute was serving him the confection of this childhood.”

Palace of Treason recipe for shirini keshmeshi: “Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, melted butter, vegetable oil and eggs. Add saffron diluted in warm water, small raisins, and vanilla extract. Blend well. Put dollops of dough on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and bake in a medium oven until golden brown.”

Palace of Treason


The Deceiver by Forsyth

Saturday, 5 March, 2016 0 Comments

Browsing this evening in a rather topsy-turvy second-hand bookshop run by an ex-banker and came across a thriller stamped “First English Edition.” Unusual, that. Especially unusual as the author is the great Frederick Forsyth. His “first editions” tend to be in English.

Anyway, The Deceiver is a page turner of the best kind and is full of ripping-yarn stuff. Rich dialogue, too. “Sam, I know you’ve been in more tight places than a shepherd’s right arm.”


World Book Day reading: The Yid

Thursday, 3 March, 2016 0 Comments

Today is World Book Day and our recommendation for this special occasion is The Yid by Paul Goldberg, a Russian émigré to New York in 1973. His debut novel opens in Moscow in February 1953, when three goons in a Black Maria leave the “castle-like gates” of the KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square to arrest Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, a Red Army veteran and actor at the Jewish Theatre. But Levinson performs a grandiose stage trick and escapes. So begins this absurd, deadly droll escapade in which the “Yid” and his associates attempt to assassinate Stalin before he can see through his “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Snippet:

A Black Maria is a distinctive piece of urban transport, chernyy voron, a vehicle that collects its passengers for reasons not necessarily political. The Russian people gave this ominous carriage a diminutive name: voronok, a little raven, a fledgling.

At night, Moscow is the czardom of black cats and Black Marias. The former dart between snowbanks in search of mice and companionship. The latter emerge from the improbably tall, castle-like gates of Lubyanka, to return laden with enemies of the people.

The arrest of Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, an actor from the defunct State Jewish Theater, is routine. An old, likely decrepit Yid, Levinson lives alone in a communal flat at 1/4 Chkalov Street. Apartment 40. No hand-wringing wife. No hysterical children. No farewells. No one to hand the old man a toothbrush through the bars of a departing Black Maria.

In the parlance of state security, arrests are “operations.” This operation is easier than most: collect some incriminating rubbish, put a seal on the door, help the old man into the truck, and a little before dawn, the Black Maria drives back through Lubyanka’s armored gates.

This is wonderful stuff and it shows just how powerful the book is as a format for entertainment and enlightenment. On World Book Day, then, let us remember what John Milton wrote in Areopagitica in 1644:

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

The Yid


Eco and Lee RIP

Saturday, 20 February, 2016 0 Comments

“In the beginning was the Word…”

With the deaths of Umberto Eco and Harper Lee we have lost two writers whose imaginative use of words helped people see life in a new light. Lee’s Alabama and Eco’s Milan were world’s apart, but both writers created works that found global audiences. Lee took small-town prejudice and transformed it into a drama about the struggle for justice. Her stroke of genius was telling the story from the half-innocent viewpoint of children. Eco most famously used the familiar format of the thriller to examine the meaning of religious belief and fanaticism in a time of terror. At the end, now, what remains of Harper Lee and Umberto Eco is the word, but it will persist.

“There, I said to myself, are the reasons for the silence and darkness that surround the library: it is the preserve of learning but can maintain this learning unsullied only if it prevents its reaching anyone at all, even the monks themselves. Learning is not like a coin, which remains whole even through the most infamous transactions; it is, rather, like a very handsome dress, which is worn out through use and ostentation. Is not a book like that, in fact?”

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

“Miss Gates is a nice lady, ain’t she?”
“Why sure,” said Jem. “I liked her when I was in her room.”
“She hates Hitler a lot . . .”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, she went on today about how bad it was him treating the Jews like that. Jem, it’s not right to persecute anybody, is it? I mean have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?”
“Gracious no, Scout. What’s eatin’ you?”
“Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was — she was going’ down the steps in front of us, you musta not seen her — she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themelves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home.”

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird


The Kingdom of Speech and the Human Beast

Tuesday, 16 February, 2016 0 Comments

Note the date and place your orders. Tom Wolfe’s new book, The Kingdom of Speech, will be published on 30 August. His central argument, and it is a controversial one, is that speech — not evolution — is responsible for humanity’s great achievements. It’s expected that the book will expand on on Wolfe’s 2006 Jefferson Lecture to the National Endowment for the Humanities. Speaking of the “Human Beast” then, he said:

“Evolution came to an end when the human beast developed speech! As soon as he became not Homo sapiens, ‘man reasoning,’ but Homo loquax, ‘man talking’! Speech gave the human beast far more than an ingenious tool. Speech was a veritable nuclear weapon! It gave the human beast the powers of reason, complex memory, and long-term planning, eventually in the form of print and engineering plans. Speech gave him the power to enlarge his food supply at will through an artifice called farming. Speech ended not only the evolution of man, by making it no longer necessary, but also the evolution of animals! Our animal friends — we’re very sentimental about predators these days, aren’t we — the lions, the tigers, the wolves, the rhinoceroses, the great apes, kangaroos, leopards, cheetahs, grizzly bears, polar bears, cougars — they’re ‘endangered,’ meaning hanging on for dear life. Today the so-called animal kingdom exists only at the human beast’s sufferance.”

The book is bound to be one of the hottest reads of the year because it’s expected that Wolfe will challenge Darwinism and, perhaps, argue the case for intelligent design. This time last year, he told the New Yorker that the way in which academics have ostracized proponents of intelligent design for “not believing in evolution the right way” invoked images of the Spanish Inquisition. Financially secure, his reputation established, this elegant homo loquax can afford to speak his mind without fear of of censorship.

The Kingdom of Speech


Book of the Year

Saturday, 19 December, 2015 2 Comments

What a twelve months it’s been for Angela Merkel: TIME Magazine anointed her its Person of the Year and the Financial Times followed suit. Even Vanessa Redgrave, that deranged old devotee of the blood-soaked PLO and the blood-drenched IRA hailed her as this year’s hero. It may be too early for Pope Francis to press her case for higher honours, but there’s already a move afoot to award her the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the light of such universal accord, it would be a brave person indeed who’d question Merkel’s Wir schaffen das (“We can do it”) approach to the challenge of accommodating one million migrants crossing Germany’s borders, but there are dissenting opinions. In fact, one was raised five years ago. In his 2010 best-seller, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Is Doing Away With Itself), Thilo Sarrazin blamed the country’s suffocating multiculturalism for encouraging the growth of a hostile counter-culture. He was immediately ridiculed, his public readings were subjected to intimidation and some had to be abandoned because of attacks by PC mobs. Last year in France, Éric Zemmour mirrored Sarrazin when his Le Suicide français accused the French cultural elite of undermining the national identity, leaving the country unwilling and unable to defend itself against existential threats.

Submission Facts are interesting, opinion is good, but it’s fiction that captures the public imagination and while Sarrazin and Zemmour spurred debate, it took Michel Houellebecq to bring their contentious ideas to a mass audience. That’s why his Submission wins the Rainy Day Book of the Year award.

Submission is set in a near-future where two opposing political parties are battling for the soul of France: the National Front, which promises to return the country to its former glory, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which promises to convert it. The Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Ben Abbes becomes President with the support of the Socialist Party, which is determined to prevent a victory by Marine Le Pen at all costs. The morning after, the French wake up to a reality in which women go veiled, non-Muslims are forbidden to teach in schools and polygyny is the law of the land. All of this is related by a cast of academics and intellectuals who adjust remarkably quickly and compliantly to the new national order.

In his earlier works, Michel Houellebecq argued that the modern world, with its consumerism, individualism and hypersexuality, wrecks communities and makes people wretchedly unhappy. Patriarchy, in the form of Islam, is an alternative and in Submission it restores a sense of personal and public serenity that comforts the future French. “Europe had already committed suicide,” Houellebecq writes, echoing Zemmour. The triumph of Islam in France ends a civilization that had already surrendered, betrayed by its reputed guardians. Michel Houellebecq, as they say, goes there.

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Film of the Year award.